Patient access to dental care “off cliff edge” in lockdown

Patients accessing the Urgent Dental Care Network in England amounted to little over two per cent of normal levels of activity

Patients accessing the Urgent Dental Care Network in England – set up to treat emergencies during lockdown when face-to-face care was suspended in practice – amounted to little over two per cent of normal levels of activity, according to data acquired by the BDA.

A freedom of information request by the BDA found that paperwork lodged by dentists with the NHS Business Services Authority indicated that just 83,300 courses of treatment were delivered in May 2020, compared to an average of around 3.5 million per month in January to March.

Recent BDA surveys have also found that a majority of practices are now operating at less than a quarter of their former capacity following the resumption of face-to-face care on 8 June.

NHS data on dental treatment published on 27 August found that 38.4m courses of treatment were delivered in 2019-20, an average of around 9.6 million per quarter. The BDA is concerned that low levels of capacity mean it will be a major challenge to deliver anything resembling those levels going forward. It cites significant barriers to expanding capacity, including the need to leave surgeries fallow for 60 minutes after an aerosol-generating procedure, and warns that unless regulations evolve, tens of millions of patients in England will effectively lose access to dental services.

Dave Cottam, Chair of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee said: "Since March patient access has fallen off a cliff, and there is no certainty when or if it can be restored.

"We have practices struggling, and tens of millions of patients need somewhere to go. We need government to work with us to rebuild capacity."