Tristen Kelso reflects on the challenges of returning to face-to-face care and the burning questions facing dentistry in Northern Ireland.
There has been a flurry of ‘return to work’ activity in recent weeks. We witnessed the dramatic announcement in England last week, that practices there would open on 8 June. In Northern Ireland meanwhile, plans for a phased return of general dental services were shared this week by our Acting Chief Dental Officer.
Preparedness is key
"Practices will not be able to offer non-urgent care until phase two and there is no date set yet"
We’ve made clear that having a dental recovery roadmap in place is key to managing how we move from where we are now, to some semblance of a return to routine care. We now know that on 8 June all practices in Northern Ireland are expected to see a return to face-to-face urgent care. This will help maximise the number of patients with urgent care needs being seen. But practices will not be able to offer non-urgent care until phase two and there is no date set yet for when this second phase will begin.
Ensuring practices are adequately prepared for each phase of re-opening is essential. Operational guidance to help practices prepare for the re-establishment of General Dental Services will be issued by the Health and Social Care Board later this week. This guidance aims to be practical and supportive, not prescriptive – and taken together with the BDA’s toolkit on returning to face-to-face care
– practitioners should be adequately prepared.
Calling for clarity
We know that applying social distancing and enhanced cross-infection control measures will have significant implications for patient throughput. This is a not inconsiderable point for a GDS payment system that has been reliant on high patient volume pre-pandemic. At the same time, there is likely to be increased practice costs, not least relating to PPE. We have consistently highlighted these issues on your behalf throughout our involvement in this process, and will continue to do so.
"How prepared is government here to facilitate the return of dentistry?"
The question remains, how prepared is government here to facilitate the return of dentistry? As practices prepare to see more patients, what support will be given to practitioners towards their PPE requirements, either through access to a central supply or through additional funding? When will indicative timescales and clear criteria be provided to determine when, and how we move to Phase 2, and finally Phase 3 of the recovery plan? What financial assistance will be put in place to support practices throughout this entire process? Is private treatment bound by the same restrictions imposed on GDS?
Preparedness works both ways, and we will be looking to the Department of Health to provide much-needed clarity to these questions in the coming days.
BDA Northern Ireland Director