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Dental Nursing in a Pandemic: How COVID-19 has Hit Practice

You’d be hard pushed to find a business or profession that hasn’t been affected in some way by COVID-19. Whether they’ve thrived or survived, it’s apparent that there will be a new normal in how we all proceed in 2021 and beyond. Dental practices have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic with forced closures and essential-only services running. As a result, businesses have had to make the hard decision to either furlough or make staff redundant. Cancelled appointments mean that waiting lists are steadily growing and with a reduced workforce, the pressure has only mounted on those already working hard to maintain patient care despite the circumstances.

Financial Pressures

In 2020, approximately 16% of all dental practices found themselves in financial trouble. It’s no surprise given how many practices have been forced to shut their doors due to the pandemic. Even patients are reluctant to return to the surgery amid fear that COVID-19 is still very prevalent. Despite dental staff’s best efforts to maintain a safe environment, people are still too cautious to come in. The British Dental Association also found that practices who had applied for a government support loan during the pandemic, approximately 86% were turned down. It’s no surprise that many felt they had no choice but to furlough staff and even make some redundant. It’s safe to say that financial pressures have had a knock on effect and some nurses have even found themselves unemployed in a global pandemic, having to pick up work elsewhere or retrain all together. With so much uncertainty around whether or not there will be yet another wave of COVID-19, there is a lot of pressure on practices to predict what might happen. These financial pressures during 2020 have been difficult for nurses with almost half being furloughed and 32% reporting difficulty in paying for their GDC registration renewal. As a result, 65% of the workforce surveyed were thinking of leaving the profession altogether.

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Overworked and Underappreciated

It’s thought that the COVID-19 pandemic has only been a catalyst to exposing the struggles of a profession already under pressure. Despite working in NHS practice, dental nurses are still not recognised as NHS staff. They have not had access to the same discounts and benefits despite providing an essential service to the public. Dental nurses do not feel appreciated for their work and given that the average hourly wage for nurses is £9.03 an hour, this is barely above the national minimum wage despite the fact that nurses are trained professionals with years of education under their belt. To make matters worse, they are also required to pay registration each year throughout their career to remain part of the GDC.

Mental Health

The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone’s mental health, but for those who have had to continue working on the frontline, it’s been particularly difficult. Staff have had to balance their responsibilities with family life, often worrying about not only catching COVID-19 but bringing it home to their loved ones. On top of that, the additional layers of PPE required to keep them safe make day to day tasks unbearably uncomfortable. It isn’t uncommon to get bruises and cuts as a result of long-term mask wearing. It seems COVID-19 is here to stay meaning nurses will have to adapt to the new normal for the foreseeable.

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