Update on Dental services for vulnerable groups.
In line with national guidance issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, dental practices in the Midlands are currently not providing routine care in the same way as they were prior to the pandemic. Practices continue to provide advice, assessment and to prescribe antibiotics and painkillers where required, as well as some face to face dental care where necessary. Most face to face care is for urgent cases.
Practices have plans in place to restore routine services but are focusing initially on urgent care and those who have experienced dental problems during the lockdown period. When routine services do resume dental care for people who are more vulnerable and who need more frequent checks will be prioritised.
As a result of the pandemic, dental practices have undertaken risk assessments of their premises and have made changes to the way they provide dental care. This is to ensure the safety of both patients and staff. These additional safety precautions mean that practices are able to see fewer patients than before due to required measures to ensure social distancing and prevent any risk of spreading of infection
As a result, not all practices or clinics are able to offer the full range of dental treatment. Patients may be referred on, particularly if the referral to another service will offer treatment in a safer setting for the patient. This may involve travelling further than would usually be the case.
Infection control measures in place to protect patients and staff also mean that there is reduced capacity in clinics and hospitals for certain procedures particularly those requiring a general anaesthetic or sedation. As a result, the wider NHS system is prioritising theatre capacity and treating the most urgent cases – for instance those with cancer. This means that some specialist services will only be available at a
more limited number of centres. There may also be additional requirements for prospective patients around swabbing or isolating at home prior to treatment. This is to ensure the safety of patients undergoing surgery and those already in the hospital.
As commissioners of dental care services, we continue to work with all our dental care providers to ensure that services in the Midlands are safely restored so that they can return to arrangements that were in place pre-pandemic and that care can be again delivered more locally.
We are aware that some vulnerable groups are finding it harder than usual to access services – particularly as no walk-in options are available. We have been reviewing pathways and treatment arrangements for these patients to ensure that they can continue to access urgent care. Primarily this is through NHS 111 or local dental helplines.
Many practices are operating with reduced capacity and will therefore be restricted in the care that they can offer to new patients. Arrangements are being put in place to ensure that telephone advice and triage is available and over 80 urgent dental centres remain open to ensure access to urgent dental care where practices are unable to provide this to all patients.