Dental hygienists in Northern Ireland raise concerns over safety and reduced working hours

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Dental hygienists in Northern Ireland have raised concerns over the safety of returning to work.

According to the society that represents dental hygienists, the Northern Ireland branch of British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT), many hygienists are worried about what the future holds. The main concerns are loss of income caused by reduced working hours and safety worries related to sourcing PPE. 

After a prolonged period of practice closures designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, clinics are now up and running again in Northern Ireland, but the range of services available to patients is limited. This has led to many hygienists being out of work for several months with no clear end to disruptions in sight. A spokesperson for the Department of Health explained that “available resources” have been targeted at “the most pressing problems,” and this means that some elements of the dental service “haven’t received the attention they would expect during normal times.”

Chair of the BSDHT in Northern Ireland, Lorna McGrath, said that some dental hygienists have been able to return to work, but they are facing a very different situation because they cannot use some of the instruments and utensils they would ordinarily employ due to COVID-19 risks and safety regulations. Hand scaling, which has replaced ultrasonic scalers, takes a lot longer, and patients may not be prepared for the experience that awaits them. There is also the issue of reduced patient numbers caused by leaving fallow periods between patients and social distancing measures, and some hygienists are also worried about being able to source the appropriate PPE.

With practices running a reduced service, there are worries that hygienists will lose their jobs or have their hours cut drastically, as some practices, which are struggling financially, simply cannot afford to offer hygiene treatments at the moment. 

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