A hygienist is urging the profession to keep putting pressure on the government in a bid to save dentistry.
Christina Chatfield, owner of Dental Health Spa, Brighton, is lobbying the government after dental practices failed to qualify for key financial schemes in the face of the pandemic.
Although dental teams in England were able to resume face-to-face care on 8 June, Christina argues that the lack of available support – alongside the regulations – means business is unsustainable for many.
‘What’s worrying is that we haven’t gone through the winter yet,’ she said.
‘If a second wave hits, how can we survive if we do not get a financial package of support? They might not close us down again but emergency care only will not pay the bills or clear the debt incurred by 13 weeks of zero income.’
Unsustainable for dentistry
She is calling for five things to happen to support the profession:
- Key worker status
- ARF support
- Self employment support
‘Until the fallow time reduces, we won’t go back to AGPs for hygiene appointments,’ she said.
‘In the current conditions, it’s unsustainable for dentistry. And I cannot understand how NHS dentistry will fare post-COVID.’
To make her practice financially viable, Christina needs two hygienists and a dentist working between two surgeries to allow for fallow time.
Additionally, she had changed her hours to 9-6pm Monday-Thursday, 9-3pm on Fridays as well as opening on two Saturdays each month.
Turning to food banks
She said: ‘But we need to make everything count. I need two receptionists to triage, temperature check and ask COVID-19 arrival questions. We have a great software SOE which has a portal link we can send out, and patients can check themselves in. The medical history is sent directly into their clinical records.
‘What this means is staffing costs go up but less footfall means revenue goes down. It is a balancing act – and for many of us not only have we not had financial help, the chancellor has excluded us.’
The ARF payment deadline set by the GDC, she argues, also exacerbates the situation. She said she knows struggling dental professionals who are having to turn to food banks.
‘Paying an ARF of £115 might not seem a big deal. But if all you have had in four months is £400, it’s almost a choice of putting food on a table or paying the GDC.
‘I know DCP colleagues who are using food banks. Many dental colleagues have not received a penny in support because the level was set at £50k. They are now so disillusioned with the lack of support from the government that they want to leave the profession. This is the collateral damage of COVID-19.
‘And NHS practices are getting 80% of their contract value, rent and rates subsidies. Some aren’t even answering their phones to their own emergencies. Meanwhile private dentistry, with no help, is expected to carry on. It’s a shambles.’
Nurses needed more than ever
One of her dental colleagues has worked at the same practice for eight years. She tried to return to work but had no nursing support, which Christina said makes it ‘virtually impossible’ to work safely and effectively.
‘It’s not easy and we need nurses now more than ever. She is going to travel here where she will be fully supported and valued,’ she said.
‘The problem is going to be the financial debt. I took a £50,000 business loan which is payable over six years. That’s around £800 a month. We need longer payment terms and we need to make rates and grants available to everyone.
‘I did get the discretionary grant from the council which I fought for it but I know many people haven’t had this. What I think needs to happen is all businesses get some support rather than one kind getting lots.
‘Even the 20% VAT suspension on PPE isn’t benefiting a lot of us because we aren’t able to access the PPE resources. VAT reduction across all materials would help.’
She adds: ‘Eventually, we will come out of this stronger. It’s been a steep learning curve. But right now it’s difficult and we need support.
‘I don’t think it’s fully appreciated how this has impacted the profession not just financially, but mentally.’
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