Tristen Kelso updates dentists in Northern Ireland on efforts to confirm financial mitigation measures in the context of COVID-19.
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Uncertainty. Worry. Fear. Hope. Virtually all dental practitioners have felt a combination of these emotions in response to COVID-19 and the devastating impact it’s having to any semblance of business as usual in general practice. As the HSCB acknowledged yesterday, it’s far from business as usual.
This isn’t surprising. On Monday, guidance was issued to GDPs that was made almost entirely defunct 30 minutes later, when the Prime Minister announced restrictive new social distancing measures. This left practitioners to make decisions unaided by guidance. This was unacceptable.
That’s why our focus earlier this week was on pressing the Department and HSCB to release new guidance that is fit for purpose. We insisted that it should acknowledge the stark new reality faced by dental practices, and what may come, and to help guide practitioners through this. we were relieved to see
updated guidance come in yesterday evening, along with Business Continuity documentation, following an earlier letter offering some assurances to GDPs from Michael Donaldson.
While this doesn’t answer every question, it is a basis on which practitioners can take steps to protect themselves, their staff and the public. The Scottish guidance, issued on Tuesday evening, may have been instrumental in informing local practices in lieu of adequate local guidance.
Ensuring you, our members have the guidance and financial assurances you need at this time is our absolute priority. Unlike Scotland, details of financial mitigation measures have still not been shared with us or with practitioners. However, in addition to HSCB reassurances, the latest advice I have from the Department is that ‘financial arrangements are in the process of being approved and are now at the final stage’.
We are leaving the Department and HSCB - from Ministerial level right through to the officials working up proposals - in absolutely no doubt as to the very real impact this situation is having on practices, and their inability to provide any significant volume of dentistry now that AGP restrictions are confirmed. We have said all along that financial measures should have been introduced alongside these necessary tougher restrictions. Be assured, they know that some practices only lifted £25 revenue in fee income yesterday, compared with a wage bill of £550 per day. We have told them, and will continue to tell them on your behalf.
It seems a lifetime ago, but it was only last week when we
wrote to the Health Minister to ask him to put in place financial mitigation measures to protect general dental practices. We made the same
appeal to the Assembly Health Committee last Thursday when the Chair of NI Council, NIDPC and myself appeared before them; and we also followed this up with the Chief Medical Officer in a meeting last Friday. That was when we were first told that financial mitigation proposals would be worked up, to be with us around the middle of this week.
As we seek to offer you some hope at this time, acknowledgements from both DoH and HSCB that they, ‘want to ensure that when the outbreak passes, dental practices and the GDS as a whole are able to return to normal levels of access and activity’, are important. We expect details of financial mitigation measures to follow imminently. On your behalf, we will be holding our government to this commitment over the coming days
Be assured, your union and all of your elected committee representatives are working at warp-speed on behalf of the profession at this time. I would also pay tribute to the excellent representation from LDC representatives who have performed an important two-way channel of communication to practitioners. Your concerns are being relayed directly to the authorities on a daily, if not hourly basis.
Having meaningful financial mitigations in place is our number one priority.
The profession has pulled together during this crisis. We’ve worked collectively to ensure there is hope. And we will continue to get through this - together.
Director, BDA Northern Ireland