By Michael Donaldson, Head of Dental Services, Health and Social Care Board
The pandemic has changed the way so many of our health and social care services are being delivered and dental practices have been particularly impacted.
The nature of dental treatment means that inevitably, patient and dentist are in very close proximity and particular care must be taken to ensure that the risk of virus transmission is kept to an absolute minimum.
I recognise this has been a difficult time for dentists, some of whom have lost income as a result of the restrictions placed on their services and I’m also aware of the frustrations of those who have had to live with dental pain during lockdown.
Our role at the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has been to try and manage that delicate balance between preventing virus infection, looking after the oral health needs of the population and ensuring dental practices remain financially viable.
Working with the five health and social care trusts, the HSCB established a network of urgent dental care centres to ensure that dental care was available to those with the greatest needs.
Practices have played an essential role in dealing with patients’ dental problems during the pandemic. Dentists in all practices have been available to receive telephone calls to provide advice or see patients, if they felt it was safe. During lockdown, 2000 patients continued to be seen weekly in dental practices and a further 250 patients were seen at urgent dental care centres.
Dentists continue to staff the urgent dental centres, the associated triage hub and to provide support to care homes and other part of the health and social care system as required.
I’m very thankful for the cooperation of dentists and practice staff for stepping up to the plate when required.
Along with the rest of the HSC family, we’re now planning for a phased return to re-opening dental services
We are doing everything we can to ensure that we continue to provide safe and quality care to those in the most need, guided by the scientific and public health evidence. A working group has been established with representation from the profession, the trusts, the board and the Department of Health.
This working group has produced guidance for practices on how to prepare for increased patient numbers while protecting patients and staff. A questionnaire to check dental practice readiness has also been issued and responses received. This will help inform, along with other information, the timing of phases two and three.
Two further working groups have been established, one looking at the immediate and longer term oral health needs of the population and the other looking at developing solutions for the large numbers of children on Trust waiting lists for extractions under general anaesthetic.
For Frequently Asked Questions about phased return of dental services: www.hscboard.hscni.net/download/coronavirus/02062020_pathway-to-restart-dental-services-FAQ.pdf