The UK government has pledged to reopen an inquiry into dentistry after it was closed by the general election in December.
Health and social care (HSC) committee chair Jeremy Hunt has promised to look into issues surrounding the profession following a meeting on Tuesday.
Chair of the British Dental Association (BDA), Mick Armstrong, presented the profession’s case, suggesting the pandemic has had ‘catastrophic’ effects on the nation’s oral health.
‘Dentistry was not in a great place when we started. We’ve got access problems which have been raised in both houses, and also in the previous health select committee,’ he said.
‘There are widening inequalities, rock-bottom morale and retention problems, so the pandemic has just made that much worse.
‘The effects on general practice, NHS and private, has been devastating and is probably existential. The effect on oral health has been catastrophic.’
He pointed out that the current protocols in place ‘severely limit’ a practice’s capacity to treat patients.
One contributing factor he said was the required personal protective equipment (PPE), which is similar to that worn by critical care health workers.
‘It is hugely expensive. We are a business, we have to buy it,’ he said.
‘Pre-COVID, you could protect patients for £2, £3, it’s now over £40 per patient.’
Working as a frontline clinician in West Yorkshire, the BDA chair emphasised that access problems that were not uncommon. Following the pandemic, he said they are likely to become the norm elsewhere in the country.
UDAs are ‘no replacement’
‘We’ve cancelled eight million courses of treatment nationally’, he added.
‘Our practice alone has cancelled 6,000 appointments. We will be cancelling another 3,000 until September just to deal with the urgent case backlog.
‘So 12,000 dental practices in the country have been effectively replaced by a few hundred urgent care centres. They’ve done a sterling job in treating the most urgent, but it’s clearly no replacement.’
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