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The British Dental Association has warned that the shortage of face masks sparked by the coronavirus outbreak now poses an imminent risk of disruption to UK dental services.
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, and says that, unless officials and industry are prepared to ease rationing, the risk is likely to rise.
All dental professionals operating in England should wear Personal Protective Equipment, including disposable face masks, clinical gloves, household gloves, plastic disposable aprons, and eye protection.
A 'one size fits all' model of rationing has already left practices unable to order more than two boxes of masks per day, roughly 100 masks, irrespective of their size. However, a single surgery in a typical NHS practice, seeing around 28 patients per day, will be getting through five boxes of masks a week. Private practices which typically see fewer patients, are consuming half as many, around 2.5 boxes a week.
China is the world's leading manufacturer of sanitary masks, and the BDA claims that several suppliers have tripled their prices since January.
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.
Mick Armstrong, chair of the BDA, 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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