UK dentists step up efforts as COVID-19 impact worsens
LONDON, UK: The effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have been felt at every level in the UK. Many were shocked to hear that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was recently admitted to an intensive care unit for COVID-19-related health complications. Though countless British dental professionals have temporarily ceased treating patients as a result of the global crisis, a number of them have since redirected their efforts towards helping those in the community who need it the most.
On 23 March, the UK government imposed a nationwide lockdown that, though initially scheduled to last for three weeks, seems very likely to be extended for a substantial period. Prior to the lockdown, both the British Dental Association (BDA) and the Irish Dental Association had criticised their respective governments for a perceived lack of direction and action regarding the COVID-19 crisis. By 14 April, the country had 84,283 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10,612 associated deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Numerous dental events affected
As reported by Dental Tribune International, the British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show 2020—the UK’s largest dental education and trade show—has already been postponed until September, owing to the coronavirus outbreak. Just last week, the British Orthodontic Society also announced that its flagship annual event, the British Orthodontic Conference (BOC), would be delayed indefinitely.
“ExCel London, the exhibition centre scheduled to host BDIA Dental Showcase 2020 in October, has been rapidly converted into an emergency NHS hospital designed to accommodate up to 4,000 patients with COVID-19”
“This has been one of the toughest decisions that as a committee we have had to make,” said Dr David Waring, chair of the BOC committee. “The conference has always been an opportunity for us to learn, share ideas and catch up socially. However, in these unprecedented times, it was felt that a major academic conference would be insensitive to the needs of delegates.”
“We are reviewing a number of options as to how we move forward with the event, and rest assured, as soon as we have more details, we will release them,” added Waring.
In addition, ExCel London, the exhibition centre scheduled to host BDIA Dental Showcase 2020 in October, has been rapidly converted into an emergency NHS hospital designed to accommodate up to 4,000 patients with COVID-19. According to the BBC, the temporary hospital is the first of several similar ones that will be constructed for these purposes across the UK in the coming days and weeks.
Dental community gives back
Like many dental professionals across the world, UK-based dentists have, by and large, stopped providing dental services to patients except for emergencies. These preventive actions are in line with a recent request from the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), which publicly called on the UK government to set a goal of zero workplace fatalities for health and social care workers owing to COVID-19. The SOM’s call was backed by a number of health organisations, including the BDA, whose chair, Dr Mick Armstrong, pleaded with the government to establish a standardised approach to providing personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals.
While thousands of NHS-contracted dental professionals have been redeployed at hospitals across the UK to support those health services under pressure from the coronavirus, many others have experienced a significant reduction in business. A number of those with free time on their hands have thus set about finding ways to support the workers, patients and vulnerable communities at the frontline of the crisis.
Dr Harshini Pindolia, a dentist who works at Guy’s Hospital in London, recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to help deliver essential goods to nurses, doctors and ambulance workers in the nation’s capital. “We’re delivering warm meals during the night shift and bags of groceries for staff to take home after a day shift,” she explained to the BDA. “We’re giving out toiletries such as moisturiser for dry, often-washed hands and bringing in cake and cereal bars to help keep everyone going.”
In a candid blog post on the Faculty of General Dental Practice’s website, the organisation’s dean, Dr Ian Mills, outlined his frustrations with the delays in NHS England’s guidance updates, though he asserted his belief that “the only way out [of the pandemic] is if we work together”.
Financial help is on the way
Though the total financial impact of the coronavirus on UK dentistry is yet to be determined, the reduction in many dentists’ workloads has been matched by a decrease in income. To help ease the financial burden, many dental organisations and health services are offering financial support for practices, including subscription relief and continued funding.
Dental Protection recently announced that its members would receive the equivalent of two months of free membership, and the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry has frozen membership subscription fees for the next three months. In addition, Chief Dental Officer for England Dr Sarah Hurley announced that the NHS will continue to make monthly payments to all practices in 2020–2021. These will be equal to one-twelfth of a practice’s current annual contract value and will start this month.