Majority of dentists unable to provide a ‘full service’ this year due to COVID-19
02 Oct 2020
3 in 4 dentists (74%) say they will be unable to provide a full service this year or don’t know when they will be able to do so.
The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England surveyed more than 450 dentists to understand what barriers remain to resuming services, which were cancelled in the wider efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As dental services began to resume over the summer, nearly all dentists surveyed (96%) said they were providing a service, but not the ‘full service’ that they would have provided before the pandemic. Private practice respondents were considerably more likely to have provided vitally important ‘aerosol generating’ procedures, most commonly associated with the use of a normal dental drill, with 83% having done so. In NHS hospital practice, this fell to 62%, and fell further to 40% in NHS general dental practice.
When looking ahead, a third (34%) of respondents did not know when they would fully resume services, with a further 36% saying they did not expect to resume full pre-pandemic services until 2021. Overall, 3 in 4 (74%) said they would be unable to provide a full service this year or don’t know when they will be able to do so.
Comments revealed that time taken between each patient to comply with new infection control protocols brought in because of COVID-19 was slowing down how many patients could be seen. Dentists are seeing far fewer patients per ‘session’ (half day) than prior to the pandemic. Where 46% of dentists were able to see more than 10 patients each morning or afternoon before COVID-19, only 7% can say the same now.
Only half (48%) of NHS general practice dentists said they had an adequate supply of PPE to enable them to do their job safely. Dentists working in hospitals however were much more confident, with 80% agreeing they had adequate supplies.
Leading dental surgeons from the Faculty of Dental Surgery today (Friday) said that services ‘should not be switched off again’ in a second wave, as dentistry is an essential part of healthcare. In a new report, A resumption of dental services? Dental surgeons’ experiences of delivering care since 8 June 2020, the Faculty calls on the UK Government to:
1. Keep dentistry open throughout the remaining ‘stages’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, using PPE and infection prevention measures to mitigate risks and keep patients safe.
2. Ensure adequate PPE across regions and settings. Dental surgeons across specialties remain reliant on PPE to continue to provide dental care. NHS general practice dentists need parity of access with NHS hospital practices, to ensure patients have access to safe treatment.
3. Tackle the barriers to full resumption of dental care, particularly ‘fallow time’, by promoting and monitoring the use of ventilation systems to increase the number of ‘air changes per hour’ in dental settings.
Commenting, the Dean of the Faculty, Mr Matthew Garrett said,
“There have been huge challenges for dentists trying to get services started again after the government hit the ‘off switch’ back in March. Few will be able to resume fully this year.
“It is critical that we avoid any further suspension of services in a second wave. Already a considerable backlog has been created. Waiting lists for treatment will become insurmountable if we halt again, with disastrous consequences for patients.
“We need urgent action in particular to help NHS general practice surgeries resume routine procedures like fillings and crown repair. These help the long-term good oral health of our patients and help prevent unnecessary dental extractions.
“It is also crucial that dentists are able to see more patients each day, getting back to pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible. This can be achieved with better ventilation systems in surgeries, and with an adequate supply of PPE.
“As with the rest of society, dentistry is going to have to ‘live with’ COVID for the foreseeable future. We need every support possible to open services up again and keep them running no matter what.”
Notes to editors
1) The Faculty of Dental Surgeons surveyed 455 dentists between 18 August 2020 and 9 September 2020. Full data is available in the FDS report published today and attached - A resumption of dental services? Dental surgeons’ experiences of delivering care since 8 June 2020. Summary results with sample sizes (N) are below:
- Only 4% of respondents (N = 410) had not resumed any services since 8 June. Private practice respondents were considerably more likely to have provided routine ‘aerosol generating’ procedures, with 83% having done so (N = 116). In NHS hospital practice, this fell to 62% (N = 139), and fell further to 40% in NHS general practice (N = 113).
- 26% of respondents said they had either resumed full services already or would do so before the end of the year. 33% did not know when full services would resume (N=389).
- 46% of respondents said they had been treating more than 10 patients a day prior to the pandemic. 7% say they are treating more than 10 patients per day now. (N=410).
- Less than half (47%) of NHS general practice dentists (N = 111) said they felt they had an adequate supply of PPE, enabling them to do their jobs safely. The proportion was slightly higher in private practice (N = 112) at 52%, and much higher in NHS hospitals (N = 136), at 80%.
2) Fallow time is the process whereby a treatment room is left empty after an aerosol generating procedure (AGP) has been conducted to reduce infection risks. AGPs are procedures where, due to the instruments used (i.e. powered by air compressor), there is a high risk of creating aerosols, and therefore creates a higher infection risk.
3) The Royal College of Surgeons of England (https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/) is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.
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