‘Fighting for survival’: calls for government action to save private dentistry
A hygienist is fighting for the survival of her business – and the protection of the nation’s health – as she calls on the government to extend financial support to private practices.
Christina Chatfield, of Dental Health Spa, Brighton, is set to go bankrupt in five weeks’ time after her practice failed to qualify for government grants in the face of the pandemic.
As it stands, a £10,000 relief grant is only available for businesses whose rates sit below £15,000 – excluding many practices who fall outside the bracket.
With no support and income crashing to zero, Christina is now battling for the survival of her practice as the suspension of routine dentistry continues.
Christina said: ‘I’ve experienced a 100% loss in revenue over the last nine weeks.
‘We are fighting for our own survival and the survival of our patients. Give us the same as everyone else. The vape shop, letting agents and hairdressers in my area are all receiving support.
‘We need the public to value the service we provide.’
Although her staff are furloughed, Christina is still paying £2,098 a month in retail rates, alongside other fixed costs such as rent and bills.
Public health threatened
Christina opened Dental Health Spa in 2007 and shortly afterwards sold her home to continue to build the business. Now, she lives above the practice.
She fears there will be significant long-term public health effects as a result of private practices closing.
‘As dental practices close, those dental practitioners won’t suddenly be free to work at NHS practices. NHS funding isn’t available for that to be possible,’ she said.
‘As access to private dentistry becomes more and more limited, those patients will be forced to turn to NHS practices. This will create long waiting lists and with some missing out on urgent care.
‘If anything, as we move forward, appointment times will need to be longer. This is to account for the additional decontamination procedures between patients – leading to less patients being seen as a result.
‘We will already have a backlog of patients needing to be seen due to the current forced closures. Those who suffer from dental anxiety will likely cease going altogether because the option to choose their care provider will be gone.’
Recent NHS England statistics reveal one quarter (26%) of patients who died from COVID-19 since 31 March had diabetes as an underlying health condition.
Christina also voices fears over oral cancer – and says a lack of dentistry will most likely lead to a spike in more serious cases.
‘As fewer people have access to dental care, oral cancer screenings will drop,’ she said.
‘Oral cancer, which kills more people yearly than cervical and testicular cancer combined, will rise. Those who do manage catch it early enough may be left with disfigurement.
‘Sadly we all know the negative impact mental health impact this could have – yet another underfunded division of the NHS.’
Hike in PPE prices
Christina is urging all general dental practitioners to band together. She has put together five key calls to action to save dentistry:
- Open dental practices now for the delivery of emergency care
- Extend business rates relief and coronavirus grant support to all dental practices
- Increase the £50,000 cap on the self employment income support scheme
- Make access easier to the business interruption loan scheme
- Ensure dental healthcare can access adequate PPE at affordable prices.
Additionally, Christina has seen the price of personal protective equipment (PPE) soar, sparking further worries about survival.
Before the pandemic, a box of face masks would cost her around £3. Now, this same box costs around £16. And for 1,000 FFP2 masks, the practice would be set back around £3,000 plus VAT.
Christina is urging the profession and members of the public to sign a petition calling for business rate relief to be extended to all small businesses in healthcare.
So far, more than 10,000 people have signed. To get involved, click here.
Find out more about Dentistry’s Back to Practice campaign.