Face mask shortage risks ‘imminent disruption’ to UK dental services

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  Posted by: The Probe      13th February 2020

The British Dental Association (BDA) has warned the shortage of face masks sparked by the coronavirus outbreak now poses an imminent risk of disruption to UK dental services, unless officials and industry are prepared to ease rationing.  

The Association reports it has been inundated by calls from member practices unclear on their options, in the wake of panic buying and supply problems. The People’s Republic of China is the world’s leading manufacturer of sanitary masks, and several suppliers have tripled their prices since January. 

Based on contact with leading suppliers the BDA reports a ‘one size fits all’ model of rationing has now already left practices unable to order more than 2 boxes of masks per day (ie: 100 masks) irrespective of their size. 

The Association estimates a single surgery in a typical NHS practice, seeing around 28 patients per day, will be getting through 5 boxes of masks a week. Private practices which typically see fewer patients, are consuming half as many, around 2.5 boxes a week. 

While smaller practices may be able to maintain viability on permitted orders of 10 boxes per week (2 per working day), even ‘two-chair’ NHS practices are now likely to use up their allocation completely. The BDA is dealing with enquires from practices with up to 13 chairs. ‘Single-handed’ practices make up less than 20% of all UK providers. 

Under the current guidance, Health Technical Memorandum 01-05 (HTM 01-05), all dental professionals operating in England should wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including disposable face masks, clinical gloves, household gloves, plastic disposable aprons, and eye protection. 

While similar rules apply in Wales and Northern Ireland, in Scotland practitioners are permitted to use disposable masks or reusable visors interchangeably.

The BDA has indicated it will ask NHS England and the Welsh Government to invoke force majeure clauses in NHS contracts should the situation deteriorate further, in order to protect multiple practices left unable to meet their contractual targets in the event of disruption.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: “In recent weeks dentists have been hit by panic buying, clumsy rationing and naked profiteering. Sadly a ‘one size fits all’ approach from suppliers is leaving many larger practices with few options. 

“Our abiding interest is the safety of our patients, who face imminent disruption to their care. 

“Unless we see a rapid increase in supply dentists without face masks will have little choice but to down drills.”


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