Stoke-on-Trent dentists have told of their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic as the NHS looks to set up local treatment hubs.
The NHS is in the process of identifying and setting up a number of local treatment centres which would see patients referred on for urgent treatment.
These will be provided through a network of specially equipped and trained dental practices. However the new hubs are not yet ready and some dentists have raised concerns.
In line with national guidance, dental practices across the country are currently closed for routine ‘face to face’ dental appointments.
People seeking help with dental problems should not visit their dental practice but instead phone their normal practice for information for advice on alternative arrangements in place or contact NHS 111.
Most practices are offering telephone or video-link consultations and can prescribe painkillers and antibiotics if needed. They will also be able to refer those patients in need of urgent treatment to a service where they can be seen.
People seeking help should not visit A&E departments or GP surgeries for dental care.
Dentist Sam De Silva who runs The Dental Centre in Hanley’s Birch Terrace with wife Sunita said: “The knock-on effect in the private sector is going to be pretty bad. We expect we are going to have to do more work to meet the demand afterwards.
“And I think the demand well be far greater for the NHS afterwards too. They will be inundated with phone calls and they will have to catch up with all the work they have should have been doing during this period. It’s a crazy time.
“We’ve had to furlough three members of staff and with us being a private practice, we don’t have a choice.”
Private dentist Deon Vlok has a ‘children’s only’ NHS contract at the Talbot Place Dental Practice in Stafford, he raised concerns about the welfare of some patients.
He said: “There are going to be patients in quite a lot of pain. But we’re not triaging these patients so it will be up to them [the NHS] to decide who gets treatment and who doesn’t.
“A lot of us dentists feel like our hands are tied because we’re supposed to be caring for people but we’re being told we can’t do our jobs.
“Then you bring in the money side of it and who is going to get paid and what have you, when really we should just be helping people.
“In the long term, I don’t know where this leaves dentistry. Unless we start seeing patients there’s not much income coming in if any.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “For safety some sites will be designated for patients with Covid-19 symptoms or those self-isolating because of their contacts and others for patients without symptoms.
“A small number of sites will treat only vulnerable or shielded patients. It is important for their own safety that patients are clear about whether or not they are symptomatic, self-isolating or in a vulnerable or shielded group.
“NHS England and Improvement is aware of the problems currently being experienced by those seeking urgent dental care across the West Midlands in advance of these arrangements being fully in place.
“We have been working on interim arrangements to ensure that patients can access care and expect to share these with dentists in the next couple of days.
“This will be at a smaller number of sites than usual, with additional more local sites being opened in the coming weeks.
“We expect hubs for patients with Covid-19 symptoms (or those who are self-isolating) to be open in most areas later this week.”