Upskill for direct access, DH&Ts told

DCPs who see patients directly must review skills and knowledge, says FGDP(UK).

It is necessary for dental hygienists and therapists who wish to see patients without prescription from a dentist to ensure they are confident in the full range of competencies across their scope of practice, says the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK).

Following the decision by the General Dental Council to allow direct access to patients for dental hygienists and therapists, the FGDP(UK) will support these dental care professionals (DCPs) in having the skills and knowledge needed to provide high quality care that protects patient safety.

The FGDP(UK)’s standards guidance will help dental hygienists and therapists when developing robust protocols for referral, consent, treatment outcomes and record-keeping, all of which are essential to ensure patient protection.

It is recommended that these professionals also complete the Faculty’s Key Skills for DCPs distance learning programme, which requires submission of a reflective portfolio of evidence in each of the skills identified by the Faculty as being vital to provide a high standard of patient care.

Furthermore, while the GDC is clear that the scope of practice for dental hygienists and therapists does not include diagnosis, it is important for any DCPs offering direct access to strengthen their skills in disease recognition to enable appropriate referral.

Trevor Ferguson, Dean of the FGDP(UK) said: ‘We believe that while patients may consider that direct access provides benefits in terms of convenience, it is essential that continuity of care is not undermined by separating dentists and DCPs.

‘The risk of seeing a fragmentation in the delivery of dental care could be lessened by ensuring good communication between dentists and DCPs who choose to see patients directly, for instance, by establishing formal networks for providers with input from patient representatives.’

The FGDP(UK) would also urge regular monitoring and a comprehensive annual review of the impact of direct access so that we may understand any benefit to patients, or to identify and mitigate any problems. It is important that the impact of direct access is considered alongside the new dental contract currently being piloted, particularly with regard to the effect on oral health assessment as the foundation for treatment plans and on the development of care pathways.

In other changes announced by the GDC, dental nurses will get direct access to allow them to participate in preventative programmes, a move that the FGDP(UK) fully supports.

The FGDP(UK) sees the role of the dental nurse as being particularly effective at reaching those who do not currently access dental services regularly and in the context of offering advice on diet and oral hygiene.

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