Stenhousemuir dentist calls for COVID hygiene measures rethink to cut patient backlog
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Dr Gillian Lennox, of Forth Valley Smile Design, was pleased when NHS dental treatments were restored.
But, she feels current restrictions are hampering the industry and extending the backlog of patients.
Bemoaning capacity issues caused by the need for practices to abide by fallow time, in which treatment rooms must be left empty for 30 minutes after the use of a drill, Dr Lennox believes it’s “impossible” for as many patients to be seen as would normally be the case.
Dentistry has been considerably hindered as many procedures generate a fine spray of air and water which can spread Covid-19.
Practices must also clean surfaces between patients and ensure adequate ventilation.
Figures obtained by JPIMedia Investigations show 10,139 patients paid more than £100 for treatment in Forth Valley in 2019, up by 8.5 per cent on the previous year.
Those in the industry know that stat is likely to increase in 2020, given the length of practices’ waiting lists.
Dr Lennox said: “We can all agree we’re happy now we’re able to see patients because we can now offer a full range of treatment.
“We have protective equipment so we’re able to do so but with a lot of caveats.
“In general, most dental practices are able to run at 20 per cent capacity because of all the extra cleaning and social distancing.
“It’s impossible to see the same volume of patients we would normally see.
“The majority of daily appointments have to be kept for emergencies. We’ve all got waiting lists that go back to March.
“The majority of the patients are seen for toothaches and pains that were outstanding treatments. Anyone with pain is the absolute priority.
“It will take a long, long time to get back to normal.”
Dr Lennox expressed frustration at the stance taken in UK dentistry compared to other nations over the altering of safety measures.
Having led a successful campaign to try to save practices, she still fears some could go to the wall.
Dr Lennox continued: “For a lot of the world, dentistry is almost back to normal.
“The view here is because there’s no definitive evidence that this is safe, the government has taken an over-cautious approach.
“If I’m doing a drilling procedure, I look like Darth Vader’s wee sister! We try and do as much as we can but we’re physically exhausted.
“We’ve had government funding but we’ve not had 100 per cent government funding and very few are 100 per cent NHS. Most rely on private patients to boost income.
“The fear of practices not being saved is absolutely there. The longer the restrictions go on, the tighter some practices’ budgets are going to be.”
The way the situation has been handled locally, however, drew praise from Dr Lennox.
She added: “People in Forth Valley have been lucky the health board has been really good with the hub services.
“Credit to Leslie Yeamen, the clinical director for Forth Valley; Jennifer Rodgers, the dental director; and Antony Visocchi, the dental practice adviser.
“They have worked very closely with us and patients have benefitted.”