Scottish dentists have slammed Health Secretary Jeane Freeman for comments suggesting overstretched services should be at “pre-pandemic” levels.
Ms Freeman MSP said on Friday during the coronavirus briefing “NHS services… should be as available now as they were before the pandemic started”.
Outraged dental practitioners have hit out at the comments, pointing out the Scottish Government has made “no commitments” to help surgeries and businesses invest in ventilation equipment, despite promises of help from Welsh and UK counterparts.
The BDA points out the Scottish Government is currently only providing enough PPE to treat 10 patients per day (or five for aerosol-generating procedures involving high-speed instruments) covering just 20-30% of pre-Covid patient numbers.
As a result of the pandemic, they say, children and adults from the most deprived areas are less likely to have seen their dentist within the last two years than those from the least deprived areas (73.5% compared to 85.7% of children and 55.9% compared to 67.1% of adults).
‘Phones ringing off the hook’
One dental professional told us Ms Freeman’s comments are already being considered as meaning services returning to “the level” they were before the first shut-down, last March, which is “clearly not the case”.
David McColl, chairman of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said: “Ministers seem to have forgotten that all dentists are operating at a fraction of their former capacity, to keep to strict infection protocols set by their government.
If we’re ever going to turn the page we need to see real commitment from government.”
“With severe limits on access emergency and urgent cases needing to be at the front of the queue, sadly this slip of the tongue has left phones ringing off the hook in practices across Scotland.
“We are facing an unprecedented backlog, and the Scottish Government needs to provide funding and support to restore routine services. As it stands, if check-ups recommenced today, we wouldn’t be able to offer appointments for six months.
“Even before the pandemic Scotland’s oral health inequalities were a national scandal. Now that gap looks set to widen, with public health programmes suspended and millions unable to access care.
“Dentists are losing the chance to act on the early signs of decay, gum disease and oral cancers. If we’re ever going to turn the page we need to see real commitment from Government.”
Back to normal?
Health Secretary Ms Freeman said: “NHS services in NHS-contracted dentists should be as available now with the range of services as they had before the pandemic started.
“There are necessary restrictions to keep staff and patients safe, which includes PPE, cleaning and, of course, physical distancing.
“That means dentists see fewer patients, which can cause some of the delays.
“Where there are specific difficulties, I want people to let us know. They can raise it with their MSP.”
Meanwhile, hospital visiting in Scotland will restart from April 26, Ms Freeman said.
Depending on the continued suppression of the virus, one visitor will be allowed per patient.
“April 26 will not be a return to normal visiting but it is, I think, an important step towards normality and will, I hope, be welcomed by health staff, by patients and by their loved ones,” she said.
More funding will also be made available for digital visitation, Ms Freeman said, but no confirmation was given of how much.
Scotland has recorded eight deaths from coronavirus and 655 positive tests in the past 24 hours.
It brings the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – to 7,554.
Of the new tests, 162 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area, 138 in Lothian and 134 in Lanarkshire.
The daily test positivity rate is 2.9%, up from 2.7% on Thursday.
There are 397 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down eight in 24 hours, and 35 patients are in intensive care, down three.