Hertfordshire cllr highlights “massive” charges for PPE for patients at dental surgeries

The issue was raised with at a meeting of the joint overview scrutiny and health scrutiny committee

By Deborah Price
Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 9:32 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 9:36 am

A Hertfordshire councillor has highlighted the “massive” charges that are being levied by dentists for PPE, in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Like other health professionals, dentists are now wearing additional items of personal protective equipment (PPE) when treating patients.

And in some cases, dentists are passing the cost of the additional equipment directly to the customer.

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Liberal Democrat Cllr Chris White – who is a member of the county council and leader of St Albans District Council – says some local dental practices are now making “massive” charges of up to £25 or £30 for the PPE required.

And he raised the issue with health officials at a meeting of the joint overview scrutiny and health scrutiny committee on Thursday (July 16).

At the meeting he contrasted the charges to hairdressers – now wearing similar levels of PPE – who, he said, are asking for additional charges of just £5.

“There are a lot of concerns about the unavailability of dental care – including emergency dental care,” he said.

“And I am now hearing that massive charges are being levied for PPE. My hairdresser – I do have a hairdresser – charged me five quid.

“I am hearing £25 and £30 being charged by dentists; fundamentally for the patient it’s the same kit.”

Although primary dental care services are not commissioned locally, the concerns were addressed Jane Halpin, who is chief executive of the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System.

She told the committees there are ‘slightly different concerns’ when compared to hairdressing.

And she said the dental charges would also take account of the nature of dentistry, the impact on patient numbers and additional cleaning.

“Because of the nature of much of the dental care carried out it does generate respiratory spread risk in a way that hairdressing doesn’t,” she said.

“So the additional cost is, in part, about lost capacity, as they have to clean rooms and allow rooms to air – meaning that fewer patients can come through, but actually still employing the same number of staff.

“So it’s not quite just the PPE in terms of face masks and visors that I think is the issue in dental care.

“It’s also the wider impacts of higher levels of infection control and the impact that has on the balance between income and expenditure.”

Meanwhile Ms Halpin also addressed the issue of restricted access to dental services through the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak.

She said there had been concerns amongst dentists that the restriction to dental care for a prolonged period may have been ‘too draconian’.

And she said – although there had continued to be small amounts of emergency dental care available – it had had an additional impact on NHS medical services.

“It’s not something that is necessarily talked about a lot in terms of health care, but actually the ability to chew and eat and swallow without pain is a significant part of wellbeing,” she said.

“And I think what this last four months has shown most of us is how quickly dental problems come to the fore when those services are switched off in a way that they have been.

“And that is something that really does need looking at – as we learn how to live with Covid going forwards.”

The combined meeting of the county council’s joint overview scrutiny committee and health scrutiny committee was held to consider the impact of Covid-19 on the council and NHS services.

Following the wide-ranging discussion the committees will determine which areas to consider further.