Tristen Kelso gives us an insight into how General Dental Services (GDS) are planning for the next phase in Northern Ireland in the context of COVID-19.
Nine weeks into the most severe disruption dentistry has ever experienced, it is heartening that this week the conversation has started to shift, looking ahead to what the next phase of GDS dentistry might look like.
We should be under no illusions that as COVID restrictions begin to be tentatively relaxed, that we can simply revert to how things were before in general practice. The safety of practitioners, patients and staff remains paramount; social distancing is likely to be with us for some time, and this will undoubtedly mean certain adjustments at a practice level.
It is key that a considered approach is taken to preparing for this next phase, whenever the conditions are deemed appropriate to increase GDS dental activity.
This is the context in which Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has formed a GDS Re-establishment working group, comprising representatives from HSCB, the Department of Health (DoH) and BDA, with input from Community Dental Services (CDS) and Hospital Dental Services (HDS), and which met for the first time yesterday, and will meet again in quick succession next Tuesday and Friday.
The short life group is considering preparedness issues ranging from the ability of practices to facilitate social distancing of staff and patients; the impact of enhanced cross-infection and decontamination procedures on provision of treatment; personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements under defined scenarios, and prioritisation of patients during the recovery phase. Operational guidance will be produced in respect of these issues, along with a GDS preparedness report.
As yet, we have no clear timescale for when dentistry can move to the next phase. However, BDA representatives made clear yesterday that the profession needs a return to dentistry roadmap, setting out the level of dental activity that can be resumed at general practice, at each phase.
Over the course of the recovery period, we can expect to see a reduction in the number of patients that can be seen in practice due to social distancing; availability of supply and increased cost of PPE is a concern; and possible modifications to practices and processes may be required. In short, any such changes will require to be met by equivalent and ongoing DoH support for the foreseeable future. Your BDA representatives will be working hard to shape this important work over the coming weeks.
BDA Northern Ireland Director