Coronavirus: PPE delay for dentists 'will affect services'
A delay to an order of PPE (personal protective equipment) for NHS dentists in NI could see some treatments pushed back, the British Dental Association has warned.
About three million PPE items were to be delivered to dentists this week, but have now been delayed until 20 July.
That is when dentists are due to resume offering treatment such as fillings.
The Department of Health said the logistical challenge of the delivery had been "significant".
On 2 July, Health Minister Robin Swann announced that the profession in Northern Ireland would receive more than three million items of level one PPE in the coming weeks.
A department spokesperson said it was expected the delivery would take 10 to 14 days.
'Big backlog of treatment'
"Whilst all efforts have been made to meet those initial timescales, addressing the logistical challenges of a consignment of this magnitude to over 340 individual dental practices has been significant," they said.
"Deliveries will now start week commencing 20 July."
Tristan Kelso, from the NI branch of the British Dental Association (BDA), said the PPE delay "will absolutely delay [treatments], there's a big backlog of treatment and we want to provide that under the health service".
Dentists in Northern Ireland have been able to provide non-urgent care to the public since 29 June.
They are expecting to be allowed to carry out what are known as aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) - which includes fillings and other treatments - from 20 July.
Mr Kelso said that because of the sheer quantities of PPE that dental practices need, the organisation recognised "a pretty big effort on the part of the department" to try and make it available and said it was disappointing it had been delayed.
The PPE due to be delivered this week is classified as level one, which includes items such as gloves and aprons, and is required for non-aerosol-generating procedures (non-AGPs).
Dentists in Northern Ireland have also been appealing to the department to provide level two PPE, such as gowns and eye protection, which is required for AGPs, such as fillings.
Last week, acting chief dental officer Michael Donaldson told the NI Assembly's health committee that level two PPE could not be provided by the department without "possibly affecting the ability to provide to trusts and the wider health service".
But, he said, dental practices usually source their own PPE and that financial support that has been provided to them should mean they have adequate funding to purchase level two PPE.
Mr Kelso said the lack of level two PPE needed was a major problem and that purchasing it required "extra money" from the department.
'Very grave issues'
"We're kind of in a holding pattern, until that's resolved I really don't see how the level of AGP treatments can go up and that's the feedback we've had from our members.
"As well as the health service side of things, our private guys' practices are really struggling financially.
"So they're stuck - the cost of the PPE would be more than the remuneration they would get to carry out the treatments
"It's going to need extra money, because at the minute Covid has just put the price of PPE beyond any pre-Covid level."
The BDA has written to the first and deputy first ministers to highlight the "very grave issues facing dental practices in Northern Ireland" and to call for an industry support package.
The letter states that dental practices, and jobs, are at risk and that "there has been no additional help forthcoming from those government departments to address loss of private earnings".
It added that health service practices face the prospect of being permitted to carry out AGPs from 20 July, "while not having any access to a central supply of level two PPE to enable them to do so".
The Department of Health spokesperson said that as well as three million items of PPE, the Financial Support Scheme had provided £12m in support payments to NI dentists to date.
"This scheme will continue for a further month to support the return of non-urgent dental care as the restrictions are lifted," they said.
"The department is engaging with the profession around the provision of ongoing financial support for the remainder of 2020/21."
The SDLP's health spokesman Colin McGrath has urged the department to "address the crisis in dentistry, before many practices across the north are forced to shut.
"Some of the most prominent problems highlighted include the inability to access the appropriate PPE with the department providing its own dentists with the necessary equipment but no other sectors leaving them to fend on their own, at often extortionate prices," he said.