Fiona Ellwood, patron of the Society of British Dental Nurses, shares her insight into the current crisis and offers some timely advice.

We have watched Covid-19 unfold across the globe and the trail of disbelief, dismay and devastation it has and continues to cause. It has taken over the news, social media and our daily life, as we have tried to go about our business.

There is no getting away from it, it is a pandemic and an unprecedented time for all. We understand it is a very difficult time and one with much uncertainty, but it is also a time to pull together, a time to be there for each other and a time to shine, a time to show resilience and comradeship and a time to face adversity head on. Some may find it difficult to remain positive, but together we will get through this.

The Society of British Dental Nurses (SBDN) has worked around the clock to stay on top of the news in order that we can support our members, friends, followers and colleagues. We have worked very closely with the Dental Professionals Alliance – the professional group made up of the presidents of the professional dental care professionals’ groups. This shows our efforts to stand together and help each other to help you.

We are very grateful to Orthodontic Therapists Society, the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy, Orthodontic Technicians Association, British Association of Dental Therapists and the British Institute of Dental and Surgical Technology for their support. We are also grateful to the British Dental Association and the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK) for their communications.

We have, on your behalf, called for a leniency in the timing of the annual declaration of Enhanced CPD, which opens in June and made enquiries about temporary licensing for those who are current enough to return to the field and who wish to help clinically should there be a need.

So, onto the news. Covid-19, as you will know, has caused chaos on both a personal and on professional level. You will know that there have been papers and guidance flowing across the four nations and internationally. At times, it has been difficult to stay on track, but thankfully we as a Society assigned a lead to allow us to dedicate time to this. There has been guidance from the Chief Dental Officers on Standard Operating Procedures, all of which have been very similar and have talked about:

  • Care for those self-isolating must cease
  • Non-urgent care being cancelled for those over the age of 70, those who are pregnant or those with underlying health issues.
  • Aerosols have been identified as a risk factor and therefore treatments that produce aerosols should be avoided where possible. Current evidence suggests the virus can survive up to five days. Lists are available of the procedures that produce such aerosols and SBDN can circulate these on request.
  • To carry out stringent infection prevention and control measures and to wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment.

This has brought with it challenging working conditions. We must:

1. Take steps to establish if patients are self-isolating or should be self-isolating. Do they have a continuous cough or a high temperature?

2. Postpone non-urgent and routine care and offer cancellations to others unable to travel and keep the visitors to the practice/clinic as low as possible. Try to get friends or partners to wait in the car or away from the setting.

3. Urgent care of self-isolating patients should be undertaken in dedicated clinics not in the general dental practice, unless this has been identified as an appropriate place.

4. Invoke the social distance rule to vulnerable groups, which means there are challenges around treating them in urgent care circumstances. Domiciliary visits are not appropriate at this time.

5. Extra vigilance needs to be paid to infection prevention and control. Maintain clutter-free waiting areas and clinical environments.

6. Hand-washing facilities should be available for all, including patients and visitors.

7. In a medical emergency you may need to consider the Resuscitation Council guidelines for resuscitation procedures for Covid-19 positive patients

8. If necessary, invoke the business contingency plan – but please talk to the team and work through the plans this is a devastating time, often with consequences.

This will have a huge impact on the business in general and it is imperative that current and accurate records are maintained for audit purposes – there will be much learning to be taken from this unprecedented event.

We are aware of many of the challenges that you and your colleagues are facing and we encourage you to talk, to get in touch, please do not become overwhelmed by everything you read and hear, everyone reacts differently to different situations.

On a personal level, the government has announced a number of financial packages to help get through this surreal situation – from mortgage holidays to income packages and more. There are a number of things we can suggest to you, simple things such as contacting credit card companies, insurance policy holders, finance companies, reviewing direct debits and so on.

This is now a plea from us. Please continue to act with dignity and professionalism, think of others and do not judge. Please when decisions are made to ease the burden on either the vulnerable groups or frontline staff, stop and ask yourself are you truly an exhausted member of the critical team, working double shifts and key to saving lives? Put things into perspective. We may have been identified as 'key workers' but that should not come with expectations of privilege, but with pride.

We have a helpline and it is open to our members 24/7. But, during this time of need, the Society has opened up the helpline to all dental nurses and student dental nurses. Trained support workers are at hand..

HELPLINE 07437481182