Tom Ferris discussing waiting timesDentists should have ‘honest and frank’ discussions with patients about what is possible under the NHS, Tom Ferris CDO says.

In a BBC radio show, Tom Ferris, Scotland CDO was questioned over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

It was put to Mr Ferris that many dentists are forced to offer private treatments to stay afloat. This is due to a lack of support from government, increasing cost of PPE and other safeguarding issues.

‘I don’t think an NHS patient should be told to go private’ Mr Ferris said. ‘I think that’s an invidious position to put a patient into.

‘Patients have always had that decision to make in terms of NHS or private care. This pandemic only exacerbated that.

‘But root canal work, for instance, was available. People could get referrals for a temporary fix to relieve discomfort until now when NHS practices open again.’

Combatting the backlog

When questioned about the appointment backlog due to lockdown, Mr Ferris said the ‘clinical judgement’ of dentists would combat it.

Despite dentists’ ability to offer the full range of dental treatments, the CDO pointed out it’s not business as usual.

He explained that dentistry has changed dramatically, with dental staff forced to wear enhanced PPE. And with fallow periods between periods, practices can only offer treatments to a smaller number of patients.

‘The people who know patients best are their dentists,’ Mr Ferris continued. ‘They will use clinical judgement to prioritise who gets seen first.

‘Someone halfway through root canal treatment is a priority.

‘(But) if they’re not in a lot of discomfort, perhaps they could be patient to let those in more pain to be seen first.

‘If you’re relatively stable and you’ve been looking after your teeth, then be patient. But if you’re having trouble you will be seen relatively quickly because dentists will use their clinical judgements.’

COVID-19 risk

Following a rise in COVID-19 cases, the Scottish CDO says he believes dentists remain safe if they follow the guidelines.

He says the use of PPE and the latest review of AGPs proves dentists can undertake procedures safely.

‘There’s little evidence across Europe of transmission between dental patients and staff,’ Mr Ferris concluded.

‘We now know a lot more than we did in March and April when there was a huge list of unknowns about the risk of transmission.

‘There are other countries that have re-mobilised dental services faster than Scotland. We’ve looked at their experience and there doesn’t seem to be a significant risk for dentists or patients in the clinical space.’