Many private dental providers are just weeks away from collapse following the suspension of routine treatment in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The British Dental Association (BDA) warned that practices with high levels of private work are more exposed to the measures introduced to help control the pandemic and require urgent support from the government.
According to a poll of almost a quarter of UK dental practices, over 70% state they can remain financially sustainable for three months or less and one in five estimate they can only survive a month.
Practices performing a greater share of private work appear to be the worst affected, with 75% of those with low or no NHS commitment (0-25% NHS) stating they will face imminent difficulties in the next three months compared to 60.7% among those with the highest NHS commitments (75% or more).
Just over a quarter of practices surveyed said they had already attempted to secure a government-backed interruption loan, but 93.4% of applicants were turned down. Almost half of those who failed have had to seek commercial loans to stay afloat, at reported rates of interest of over 20%.
‘Many practices are now weeks from a cliff edge, saddling themselves with debt they may never be able to repay,’ said BDA Chair Mick Armstrong. ‘
Dentist leaders are pressing for the full rates of relief offered to the retail and hospitality sectors to be extended to all high street practices, and for expansion of the government loan scheme.
‘It was right to suspend all non-urgent care, but without meaningful support the nation’s dental services face decimation, and no practice can be excluded,’ said Armstrong.
The BDA said that the NHS side of practices has been offered some support, but warned that access to treatment will be impacted in the long-term if practices are forced to close.
The private side of dentistry effectively cross subsidises a diminishing NHS budget, with total spend on private care exceeding the UK-wide NHS dental budget every year since 2012. Unmet need for NHS dental services was estimated last year at around four million adults in England.
‘Dentistry cannot weather this storm when nearly every surgery relies on private care to stay afloat,’ said Armstrong. ‘If officials let these vital services go to the wall the impact will be felt by patients in every community in Britain.’