Northern Ireland’s chief dental officer warns of ‘short and long-term’ effects of Coronavirus crisis

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Michael Donaldson, chief dental officer for Northern Ireland, has warned that the Coronavirus crisis will contribute to difficulties in both the short and long-term.

Speaking at a meeting of Stormont’s health committee, Mr Donaldson explained that efforts are underway to resume services for children and older people, which were launched at the beginning of the year. Everyone is working hard to bounce back quickly, but there are significant challenges, with the distribution of PPE a mammoth task. Mr Donaldson said that a “colossal” amount of PPE needed to be sent out to dental facilities, and confirmed that a delivery of level-1 equipment would be fulfilled next week. There are further challenges related to the provision of level-2 PPE, which is required for aerosol-generating procedures. 

Private dentists usually cover the cost of their own PPE, but there are measures in place, including additional funding and access to 3 million free units of equipment, to help practices at what is a very testing time.

Dental practices have been open since June, and the latest statistics show that around 11,000 patients received treatment during the week commencing 29th June. The delivery of PPE, which required 30 articulated lorries, should enable practices to increase capacity considerably, with dentists hoping to increase patient numbers to approximately 38,000 per week. This is a substantial increase from 4,000 patients per week who accessed urgent dental care during the lockdown between March and June. 

As infection rates continue to drop in Northern Ireland, it is hoped that practices will be able to continue offering more appointments in a bid to clear existing backlogs and prevent waiting times from increasing in the months to come.

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