A SIGNIFICANT backlog of people waiting for dental treatment “continues to expand” with the local service still unable to work at the level it could prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
NHS Shetland dental director Antony Visocchi, who was appointed in summer 2020, said dentists were now able to perform all treatments under pre-pandemic guidance.
But infection control measures and physical distancing, along with the impact of self-isolation on the workforce, mean the service has still not been able to get fully up to speed.
Dental services had been under pressure long before the pandemic, with many patients enduring years on waiting lists and unable to receive non-urgent care.
A nationwide difficulty in attracting people into the profession is further magnified by difficulties attracting qualified professionals to the islands.
Visocchi told Shetland News all registered patients “should be offered all available treatment” but “those who are able to access this care will generally be in the highest priority groups”.
Asked to quantify the scale of the job the dental service faces in catching up, he said it was “not something I’m able to give figures on, it’s a bit of an impossible one to answer at present”.
“There is a significant backlog of treatment requirements from the start of Covid,” Visocchi said.
“This continues to expand due to the fact that we are unable to work at pre-Covid levels.
“We are working as hard as we can to see all the patients that are in the highest priority groups. I’d like to personally thank all the teams that are working above and beyond to ensure they can see as many patients as possible.”
He added that the health board was in talks with the Scottish Government about the need for greater funding “to increase dentists and facilities”, while there is an ongoing Promote Shetland campaign seeking to attract dentists to the islands.
“However, nationally, there is a widespread and well recognised workforce issue affecting the whole profession,” Visocchi said.
“This is being regularly discussed with other health boards and the chief dental officer.”
He emphasised that no one requiring emergency treatment was on a waiting list, stressing all patients – both those registered with the NHS and visitors to Shetland – will “always be seen in an emergency by NHS Shetland”.
Visocchi added that the health board currently has 7.5 full time equivalent dentists which is “almost at pre-Covid levels”.
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