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Letters / ‘Bear with us’ – open letter from director of dentistry Antony Visocchi, to NHS patients

Dear patient,

I am writing to provide you with an update on how we are restarting NHS dentistry in Shetland. I am aware of concerns and confusion within the community regarding NHS dental provision and I hope this letter will clarify the situation.

Due to Covid-19, NHS services across the country are facing a significant backlog of patients who are, understandably, seeking treatment. However, the way we now need to provide care, to ensure it is Covid secure, means we have reduced capacity and we are not at a stage of ‘business as usual’.

To give some context – NHS Boards in Scotland provide dental services under the name of the Public Dental Service (PDS). This is a special care service to provide dental care for patients identified as belonging to Vulnerable Groups. These could be children, adults with special needs and people in care. Patients who do not belonging to a vulnerable group are able to receive treatment within the General Dental Service (the GDS or ‘high street’ dentist).

Due to the historical lack of ‘high street’ dentists in Shetland, the PDS has had to step in to provide GDS services which has increased the demand on our limited capacity. The effect of Covid has added to this pressure on this limited service. Nevertheless, NHS Shetland’s PDS is continuing to remobilise dental service provision across our sites. We have also had to adjust due to the restrictions implemented since Christmas 2020 which were imposed after an increase in Covid cases.

We are expecting, from May 2021, to be able to return to our pre-Covid range of treatments but still restrictions will remain. And, as we have been unable to see patients for routine care for the past 12 months, we now have a huge challenge in attending to the backlog of care required.

I am sure you can appreciate we need to prioritise our NHS Shetland dental services to see those most in need.  Therefore, we are asking patients to ‘help us help you’ and bear with us as we try to return to pre-Covid activity. For a start, our reception team will contact patients to arrange appointments as patients are assessed.

Patients should only contact us if they need to be seen as an emergency for: pain, infection, trauma, or any worrying patch in the mouth. NHS Shetland PDS is here for any patient who needs this emergency care.

Once we have overcome this challenging period, I am expecting to see us return to some normality with a much greater availability of appointments. Plans are underway to increase long-term access to dental services across the whole of the community.

Lastly, as many of you know, the St. Olaf Street practice closed approximately two years ago. All patients who were registered there have been automatically transferred to the Montfield Clinic, unless they have made alternative arrangements themselves.

We would like to sincerely thank all patients for their co-operation and continued understanding.

Antony Visocchi
Director of Dentistry
NHS Shetland