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BELFAST, UK: Dentists in Northern Ireland and Scotland are struggling. Several pleas to ministers for financial support for private and mixed dental practices have gone unanswered, and BDA Northern Ireland is now calling on dentists to share their personal stories of hardship with the government. Dentists in Scotland are also struggling with increased costs, decreased revenue and patient back-logs, and the BDA has called for better communication from ministers to address patient expectations.
BDA Northern Ireland has called on the government for urgent action to provide financial support for private and mixed dental practices during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. In a letter sent to ministers in Belfast, Dr Richard Graham, chair of the BDA Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, said that dentistry in Northern Ireland would only survive the health crisis if the full mix of dental practices and their NHS and private revenue streams were safeguarded.
Graham pointed to a lack of recognition of the hybrid and mixed business models of dental clinics, their rising costs and prolonged foreseeable disruption to incomes, and repeated pleas from the BDA for help. “The impact on dental earnings is such that revenue is not even coming close to covering outgoings. We are looking at a failure of dental businesses, and associated job losses on a Northern Ireland-wide scale,” he wrote.
The letter was addressed to First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, but it was not the first letter to be sent. Three separate letters were sent to Health Minister Robin Swann and Economy Minister Diane Dodds in March, April and June.
“[It] is impossible to provide funding
for every scenario that has presented itself during this pandemic”
– office of Economy Minister Diane Dodds
In the latest reply, sent by Dodds’ office and dated 2 July, it was stated: “The minister fully understands the frustration shared by some businesses or individuals in the community who have not been able to avail of as much support as others, but it is impossible to provide funding for every scenario that has presented itself during this pandemic.”
The BDA has now issued a call to action to its members in order to put additional pressure on the first minister and deputy first minister. Dentists should share their own stories of how the pandemic has affected their practice, earnings and outlook with their respective members of the legislative assembly. Details on how dentists can help are available on the BDA’s website.
“It is not in the public interest to see mixed/private oriented practices fail […] We need a dedicated support package to be put in place for private dentistry, and additional funding is needed for the GDS [general dental services] that recognises the additional costs of providing services post COVID-19,” Graham stated in the call to action.
“Routine dentistry has not returned” to Scotland
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced in late June that Phase 3 of the easing of public health measures would mean that all dental practices begin to accept patients for non-aerosol-producing routine dental care from 13 July. The BDA says, however, that dental practices in Scotland are only providing a limited range of treatments and no routine examinations.
In a BDA press release, Dr David McColl, chair of the Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said that it would now be up to the Scottish government to manage patient expectations. He stated: “Yes, we are moving to the next phase of reopening, but very little will change in terms of the treatments we can offer to our patients.”
“Routine dentistry has not returned, and this fact needs to be clearly communicated,” he continued, “Dentists now face a vast back-log of dental treatment, and it will be some time before we return to anything resembling ‘business as usual’.”
McColl added that ministers needed to provide clear communication but also appropriate financial support in order to ensure the sustainability of NHS dentistry. “We need the government to engage more regularly and effectively with the profession and the public as we continue to navigate our way through these difficult times.”
The BDA said that Scottish dentists’ costs had increased since they began reopening in June and that the Scottish government’s announcement of additional funding—a 30% increase in the general dental practice allowance—was welcome, but remained insufficient to restore practice incomes to pre-COVID-19 levels. “The BDA has stressed the need for additional funding, given the financial pressures facing mixed NHS–private practices with a high percentage of private income.”
As the options for financial support currently stand, some practices may struggle to remain viable, the BDA warned.