A dentist in Cornwall says that the coronavirus crisis has created a “major problem for dentistry in Cornwall, in fact it’s a disaster”.
Jason Smithson, on behalf of the British Association of Private Dentistry, has hit out that there is only one emergency Urgent Dental Care Centre operating for the whole of Cornwall, offering only limited treatment.
The dentist says that people in the county are in agony and not receiving the treatment they desperately need and that many dental businesses could be bankrupt within weeks leaving patients without access to care.
Dr Smithson says that the situation is exceptionally disastrous for Cornwall as it already has well-documented access problems for patients, which are being exacerbated by the current situation.
“We now have perhaps the most major problem in the history of dentistry in Cornwall,” said Dr Smithson.
“We only have one urgent dental care centre offering emergency treatment for the whole of the county, and that is only for limited treatment classed as life-threatening such as uncontrollable bleeding or swelling which is affecting airways.”
Jason has been a practising dentist in Cornwall since 1997 and is a member of the British Association of Private Dentistry (BAPD), a new group set up to put pressure on the Government to provide more help for the dental industry during the pandemic.
BAPD is an organisation whose mission is to represent all members of the private dental sector across the UK. Its aim is to act as a conduit between members, government and regulators, to ensure their voice is heard as a key part of decision making in UK dentistry.
It has gained 6,000 members in just ten days.
“My main concern is for Cornish people getting the treatment they deserve,” said Dr Smithson.
He added that the majority of dental practices in Cornwall – and across the UK – are not purely private or NHS; the majority are mixed with the private work often subsidising the NHS work.
The English Chief Dental Officer, in line with Government agencies ordered that all English dentists should stop seeing patients face to face completely on April 3 due to the risks associated with treating patients during the pandemic. Only telephone advice could be offered.
Dr Smithson argues that this ruling affects all dentists and creates a lack of cover for emergency treatment, especially with just one Urgent Dental Care Centre treating everyone in Cornwall from Bodmin.
“It means we can only give telephone advice to patients and provide them with antibiotics and painkillers. The only real way of dealing with most problems is by way of a filling, root canal or extraction. Those are the only ways of truly ridding a patient of pain … and we are not allowed to do this.
“Normally, a dentist just giving painkillers rather than examining and treating a patient in pain would potentially be seen as malpractice.”
Dr Smithson said he knows of 12 patients in Penzance in acute pain but who don’t fit the criteria to go to the Bodmin centre for treatment.
“Apparently, there is limited PPE at the urgent care centres and the suggestion is it takes an hour to clean between patients so that means very few patients treated per dentist per day, and there are only a few dentists working at the hub,” he added.
“From April 15, it has been stated we can see patients in our own practice assuming there is no accessible regional acute care centre, but what does accessible mean? Is five miles local or 50 miles? There is no Government advice on this.”
“Even if we had the ability to see patients we don’t have clear advice on what the correct PPE is.”
Dr Smithson is also concerned for his staff.
“If I decide to see a patient then my nurse and reception staff are at risk.”
Private dentists like Dr Smithson have offered to open their practices to help the NHS deal with emergencies during the crisis, but the offer has not been accepted by the Chief Dental Officer.
“Many private practices have enhanced infection control measures for carrying out implants, and also have the gowns, PPE, technology and trained staff to work in such conditions, but our help is being rejected.
“There are people in Cornwall in agony with swollen faces.
“This would be an ideal way of getting people out of acute problems and keep them out of A&E. I’m sure this is going to lead to big problems for the Royal Cornwall Hospital quite soon.”
He said that now the whole dental industry is in lockdown the “vast majority” of dentists nationally are three months off bankruptcy.
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Dr Smithson said that most dentists were self-employed, even if they take on NHS work, and only just fall outside the Government’s £50,000 cap for financial support. Unlike retail businesses, dentists have not seen their business rates reduced.
He said many of his colleagues were now paying furloughed staff out of their own savings.
“This is outrageous and a mess – a significant number of dental practices won’t survive the year. The worrying situation is compounded in Cornwall where many people aren’t registered with a dentist.”
“It’s very scary and an absolute disaster currently.”