Routine dental appointments 'returning to normal' following pandemic backlog

People across Wales will soon be able to access more routine dental appointments, as NHS dentists try to catch up with the backlog caused by the pandemic.

All routine dental services were halted due to the close nature of treating patients.

Since then, dental care professionals have been trying to make up for lost time.

This has meant a delay, or even a pause, on many routine appointments like check-ups.

However, the number of emergency cases being dealt with is returning to pre-pandemic levels, allowing practices to address the treatment back log.

But the Health Minister has said the return of other routine dental services will be gradual as teams focus on the most urgent work and people who have had treatment delayed.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan has today (July 1st) outlined the plan for the future of NHS dental services in Wales.

She said: “Dentistry has been one of the most challenging services for us to deliver during the pandemic because of aerosol generating procedures and the need for dentists to be in such close proximity to the patient."

“Dental practices will need to continue to follow strict infection control measures to help prevent the spread of Covid. As the risks reduce they will be able to increase the treatments and routine assessment they provide.

“We are now viewing this year as a reset and recovery period but we remain committed to reform in dentistry."

Eluned Morgan also confirmed her commitment to the wider reform of NHS dentistry but said changes to the NHS dentistry contract will be postponed until next year to allow the service to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic 40% of all dental practices holding NHS dental contracts in Wales had signed up to be part of 'contract reform'.

This contract reform was due to be restarted in October 2021 but has now been delayed until April 2022.

Eluned Morgan said the Welsh Government "does not want to see a drift back to previous ways of measuring activity."

Prior to the pandemic, dentists used a unit system to measure the amount of work carried out during dental treatment, something the BDA (British Dental Association Cymru) has brandished a "failed" system.

The UDA (Units of Dental Activity) system, which was in operation since 2006 "capped patient numbers, failed to reward preventive work, and fuelled both access problems and a collapse in morale among the profession" according to the BDA.

A spokesperson for the BDA said they welcomed today's announcement from the Welsh Government, saying it means "there will be no turning back to a failed system that put government targets ahead of patient care."

Russell Gidney, Chair of the BDA's Welsh General Dental Practice Committee, said: “This is welcome news for families across Wales.“It means there will be no turning back to a failed system that put government targets ahead of patient care.“In Wales at least we are assured that the mantra of build back better is actually being applied to our health services.” 

In 2012, 37% of practices in Wales were accepting new NHS patients, but by 2019 fewer than 16% were able to take on new adults. 

Instead of Units of Dental Activity to monitor contracts, four alternative measures are being developed and tested ready for the reform in 2022.