The Association of Dental Groups (ADG), whose members consist of corporate providers of NHS and private dentistry across England and Wales, have called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer for government support for private dental practices during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Currently, those who perform NHS dentistry will be paid most of the cost of their contracts by the NHS. Those who perform a mix of NHS dentistry and private practice receive some NHS support and can furlough their workers. However, the government support excludes self-employed dentists in private practices who earn just over the £50,000 cap meaning hundreds of dental professionals from around 5,500 private practices across the country have no income.
In a double whammy, dental practices have also been excluded from the business rates retail discount and grants leaving them struggling to meet the fixed costs and leases they must continue to pay.
Given the volume of dental care in the country provided by private practitioners, with private dentistry accounting for half of patient spend the lack of government support is of major concern. If this part of the profession does not receive some government aid private dental providers could effectively completely collapse over the next six months, leaving severe dental access challenges.
Business rate relief guidance for coronavirus issued by the Government specifically excludes medical services, including private dental practices from the discount. Removing this exclusion and making private dental practices eligible for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants (RHLG) would go a long way to providing reassurance to the profession that the government wishes to support private dentistry, which alleviates pressure on the NHS.
This discount is for small businesses on the high street who face exactly the same economic circumstances as medical practices and should absolutely be extended to the dental profession. In fact, the health and societal good provided by medical services and dental practices should help to qualify them, given the need for them to be available and fully operational once things begin returning to normal.
Chair of the Association of Dental Groups, Neil Carmichael said:
“The Government must urgently reconsider the support given to dentists and provide certainty around the eligibility for the SIESS. These are professionals we are not only seeking to redeploy to help in the wider NHS effort against COVID-19, but we will need to call on to tackle the backlog of oral healthcare need once the crisis is over.
“Given this was a sector already facing workforce shortages and access issues, something must be done to support self-employed dentists and private practices to weather the storm and continue to provide dentistry once non-urgent dentistry is possible again.
“A continued lack of support will have a potentially disastrous impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of clinicians and staff members working in private practices. The Government is calling upon this dentistry workforce to assist the NHS but many of the private practices that provide their employment now face collapse without further financial support.
“In the interest of the public good of sustaining access to oral health provision we have called on HM Treasury to provide support for the whole dental profession – in particular removing dentistry from the exclusion for rate relief and RHLG grants. We are not seeking special treatment but just the same treatment as others on the high street forced to close so private dentists can continue to be accessible and available .
“If nothing changes and private dentistry is allowed to collapse, this will leave those still standing unable to cope with the demand for dental treatment and exacerbate the already perilous state dental care in the country.”