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Both British and Irish dental associations unhappy with official response to COVID-19

LONDON, UK: The British Dental Association (BDA) and the Irish Dental Association (IDA) have both recently criticised their respective governments for the lack of direction and action regarding the COVID-19 crisis. Both organisations have said that dentists have been left in the dark about how to proceed and that the impact of this could be significant.

On Tuesday, 17 March, the BDA chair, Dr Mick Armstrong, sent a strongly worded email to England’s Chief Dental Officer (CDO), Dr Sara Hurley, outlining some of the critical issues. The letter was co-signed by the chairs of the England Community Dental Services Committee and the General Dental Practice Committee. It stated: “We are writing to you to raise the association’s high level of anger and frustration that dentists and their teams are being left to cope in the current frightening situation without the benefit of clear official advice.”

In light of the ongoing measures around the world being taken to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), the BDA wants the UK government to update its most recent guidelines, noting the recent decision by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales to stop its routine inspection and review programme as a prime example of leadership.

In his email to the CDO, Armstrong noted: “The standard operating procedure for primary care dentistry was last updated on 5 March and Eric Rooney’s preparedness letter is dated 6 March. In such a fast-moving environment, the delay in updating this advice is simply unacceptable and leaves our dental teams and their patients in an incredibly vulnerable situation.”

The disappointment in government has also been expressed by the IDA, who said that, owing to the pandemic, closures of dental practices across the country were now inevitable. Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the IDA, said: “In other countries, dental practices have scaled down services on the instructions of relevant authorities but we have had no clear, unambiguous guidance from either the Dental Council or the Health Protection Surveillance Centre as to the current crisis.” Hourihan went on to say that, because of the nature of their work, dentists are one of the groups of healthcare professionals most vulnerable to a virus like SARS-CoV-2.

According to the BDA, many dentists are concerned about the virus being transmitted from asymptomatic patients. “In these circumstances, continuing to advise that standard personal protective equipment is sufficient, simply does not feel tenable,” said Armstrong. Current guidelines from the UK government regarding transmission state that people should self-isolate only if someone has a new, continuous cough and/or a temperature of 37.8 °C or higher, noting that this is the basis on which practitioners should decide whether patients should be treated and whether staff members should come into work or not. Additionally, as per the BDA website, guidelines state that staff are not required to wear an FFP3 mask in the general dental practice setting.

From 16 March, additional changes regarding UK-based practitioners have included the Care Quality Commission’s confirmation that its routine inspections—including in dentistry—will cease, something that the BDA hopes will ease the current regulatory burden.

In an email conversation with Dental Tribune International, a representative of the BDA said that the CDO had received their email and that Hurley will be responding.

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