Dental practices in the Island can resume treating patients again, providing they meet stringent safety guidelines designed to prevent infection among staff and patients.
The closure of practices under Emergency Powers in late March was a key patient safety measure in the Government’s coronavirus response. Dentistry is a high risk area for potential Covid 19 transmission due to the aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) involved in most forms of treatment.
An emergency dental service set up by the Department of Health and Social Care has offered advice, pain relief and antibiotics but no AGPs, to all Island residents. This was extended last month to include an emergency treatment service where AGPs such as root canal treatments were made available, with NHS dentists from a number of practices working as a team, on a rota basis.
The path to resumption of activities, which has been agreed with the profession, is based on updated guidance for maintaining infection-free surgeries. Practices will be able to offer treatments when they have all necessary equipment and measures in place and can demonstrate compliance with a set of quality assurance standards.
Requirements cover a wide range of issues relating to the workforce, premises and the care process, as well as a number of administrative aspects. Key areas include training in the correct use of PPE, protocols for hygiene and decontamination, and social distancing. Practices should carry out a Covid-19 assessment on each patient who contacts the surgery and make plans to conduct telephone triage and remote consultations where appropriate.
An assessment team comprising a dentist, a member of DHSC’s Infection Prevention and Control team and a Primary Care officer will visit each surgery to ensure the agreed process towards reopening has been followed and that standards are consistent across the board.
Minister for Health and Social Care David Ashford said: ‘The roadmap towards reopening dentistry has been complex and could not be rushed. It has been a painstaking process and we have set the bar high – deliberately so, as we must get this right. We understand practices are keen to welcome back their patients, and that many people have been waiting to see their own dentist.’
He added: ‘Dentists can begin treating patients once again as soon as all preparations and the Quality Assurance assessment are complete. Some practices will open sooner than others – there is no deadline or target date. Practices will want to be sure they have implemented a raft of changes, which need to be carefully planned. I would like to thank all our dental practices, those which carry out NHS work and those operating solely in the private sector, for working with us on this. It has been extremely challenging but I am confident the measures will be effective in preventing infection spread should coronavirus reappear, and will feel less onerous over time.’
The reopening of dentistry allows for treatments to be carried out, but does not presently cover routine check-ups, which will follow in due course. Patients who call the NHS emergency dental treatment service will be asked to contact their surgery if it has reopened, while some dentists may directly contact their patients to let them know.
The DHSC’s advice and emergency treatment services will remain open to all Island residents for the time being and appointments can be made by calling 642785.