DUP Councillor Margaret Tinsley said it was ‘unsatisfactory’ that dental patients could not access an emergency clinic without first contacting their own dentist.
Cllr Tinsley said patients had trouble contacting dentists at weekends with some using the Out of Hours GP service as an alternative if they were unable to contact a dentist.
“This is putting added pressure on the service,” she said.
Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley said he is engaging with the Department of Health and the Health Minister to have the Emergency Dental Clinic restored at Craigavon.
“It is wrong to keep this service from Craigavon and full provision should be restored as soon as possible.”
A spokesperson for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said: “The Emergency Dental Clinic is no longer located at Craigavon Area Hospital (from April 2020).
“This has been replaced with an urgent dental care service which is based in Armagh Community Hospital and is operational Saturday and Sunday 09:00-17:00.
“If a patient has a dental emergency they are advised to contact the on call dentist for their practice, who will triage them and refer them to the urgent dental service if they meet the criteria.”
Previously those who suffered from toothache and required urgent dental care at weekends could been seen in Craigavon Hospital by simply turning up at the Emergency Department.
It is understood the Emergency Dental Clinic at Craigavon Hospital was ‘stood down’ in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the hospital was regarded as a ‘red’ site. A red site is where they could not have ‘walk in’ patients and the previous EDC at Craigavon was a ‘walk-in facility’.
Since then dental practices across NI were asked to do their own Out of Hours, which are effectively Saturdays and Sundays for their own registered patients and also to accommodate where possible unregistered patients.
A dentist, who wished to remain anonymous, said some patients who are unregistered are struggling to get appointments.
The Emergency Dental Clinics at both Craigavon and Belfast City Hospital do not exist anymore - also the Dalriada Urgent Care.
The nearest equivalent is called a UDCC which is an Urgent Dental Care Clinic - there is one in Victoria House in Armagh, another in the Carlisle Clinic in Belfast and a third in Dalriada, Ballymena.
There is no direct access to the Armagh clinic. The only way to get to it is via their own dentist on a Saturday morning. That dentist makes a call to Dalriada Urgent Care in Ballymena and the patient is triaged through this central triage facility and a decision is made if that patient is appropriate for the UDCC.
The UDCC is primarily for COVID-19 positive patients or high risk patients (ie one who may be at high risk of having contracted COVID-19) and whatever capacity is left is for those who require urgent care.
One dentist explained that these clinics are for urgent care and can help with pain and some procedures.
Those suffering from emergency dental conditions, such as swelling which was affecting breathing, uncontrolled bleeding or perhaps a severe trauma due to an accident, should attend the Emergency Department in Craigavon Hospital for further management.
One dentist explained that capacity to care for patients has been very tight during the pandemic.
Fewer patients could be seen and a significant break between patients was needed in order to sanitise the treatment area. “This has led to the whole process slowing down and fewer patients being seen,” said the dentist.