A Plaid Cymru MS has successfully got dental care in care homes back on the agenda of the Labour Government.
South Wales East MS Peredur Owen Griffiths, whose portfolio covers older people and social care, used a short debate to draw attention to the lack of government attention on oral hygiene within residential care homes.
The Labour Government had established the Gwên am Byth programme to improve the deficiencies in dental care that were recognised by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales. However, the last government update on the programme was issued in December 2019 - before the coronavirus pandemic changed the face of social care.
During the short debate entitled ‘More than just a smile: Are care home residents getting the right dental treatment?’ Peredur said it was time for the government to reveal what contingency plans they had, if they had any.
To underline the importance of dental care among older people, he cited an example given to him by his dentist during a recent appointment.
“During our conversation,” Peredur said, “my dentist talked about some of his longstanding patients, some of whom he’s seen move into care homes. Under his care, his patients had maintained healthy teeth and gums for many years until they moved into a care home.
“He’s been shocked to see how many of his patients have had a dramatic decline in their oral health since moving into a care home.”
He added: “We all know that oral hygiene is vital. We know that advances have been made—there are fewer dentures in glasses of water at the sides of beds, compared to a few short decades ago. This is due to advances in dental care.
“My fear is that this has been greatly set back during the pandemic. I raise this matter here in the Siambr today not to criticise the Government, nor residential care homes, nor dental practitioners who work so hard, but to ensure that dental care for older people is on the agenda, that it is being actively investigated and that contingency plans are being drawn up to react to the sweeping changes that this global pandemic has had on social care.
“These plans are needed. If they're in the process of being planned, we need to hear about them.”
“We drum into our children the importance of brushing their teeth. In fact, when we first get teeth, the people who look after us drum into us that we must brush our teeth.
“This should be the case throughout our lives. We should be helping our older people in care homes to maintain those childhood habits.
“That's why it's so important that this topic remains on the agenda. In addition, we know that a person's oral health can deteriorate in a short space of time, so we must consider how top-class dental care can be delivered to care home residents during a pandemic.
“I hope that this is something we can all agree on. I hope we can work together to bring back the momentum on this important issue. And I do hope that we can provide more than just a smile.”
During the debate, Peredur’s Plaid Cymru colleague - Sioned Williams - called for the government to ensure that any work on dental care in care homes is tracked so that success or not can be measured.
In reply, Health Minister Eluned Morgan said the government would be introducing more measures to make it easier for care homes to improve dental care for residents.
She said: “To address this inequality, and widen access to the programme, I've introduced a simplified offer and approach, which is intended to facilitate more care homes being able to meet the essential minimum standards and take part.
“This is called Essential Gwên am Byth.
“Those homes that are already fully engaged will continue to be supported, to sustain excellence in mouth-care standards. The simplified approach can be initiated in care homes that have not started the programme or have found it difficult to comply with the current all-Wales approach.
“By adopting this approach, all care homes, across Wales, can be included in the programme, and all residents can benefit from the benefits that are being offered through Gwên am Byth. The programme, including the offer of Essential Gwên am Byth, is now resuming.
“With the success of the vaccine roll-out, use of digital training, and the availability of lateral flow devices, the risk for community dental staff to enter care homes is now greatly reduced.
“The recovery is well underway, and we have incorporated learning from the pandemic into the programme as we look ahead, including the greater use of digital technology, to deliver the training element.”
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