Richard Graham 2018
Richard Graham

I retired from clinical dentistry at the start of February before coronavirus became such a phenomenon. Good timing some may say.

In Northern Ireland routine Dental treatment came to an end in the middle of March. Practices were closed to all but emergency cases.

The Department of Health decided to set up five emergency clinics, located throughout Northern Ireland. They asked for 100 volunteers and were overwhelmed by the hundreds who volunteered. I decided that I had spent too much time in the garden and also volunteered.

Before starting to work in an emergency center every volunteer has to be fit tested for their FFP3 respirator mask which has slowed up the progress. Only five people in Northern Ireland can carry out the fit testing process and each fit test takes about 15 – 20 minutes meaning that each fit tester can only fit test about 30 people each day. There are a lot of health care workers needing fit tested, in Northern Ireland, meaning Dentists are fitted in whenever possible.

While we were arranging the fit testing our Community Dental Service were getting the emergency centers ready, making sure they were stocked and designing standard operating procedures for each site.

I was one of the first Dentists to be fit tested and picked to work in the Southern area center. At an induction process we found that there were four of us to work in pairs, for the first week, until more Dentists got fit tested for their masks.

I went in today for my first session and found that I was on my own. My work partner had developed a high temperature and had been advised to self isolate. Luckily it wasn’t too busy and I had time to find my feet, work out where everything was and how it all worked.

My biggest problem was the PPE. For those of you who know me large in Chinese sizes is not large in Northern Ireland sizes. I had to be taped into my PPE. It was very hot and very claustrophobic to wear and would be difficult to wear for any length of time.

I am so very proud of all my Dental colleagues in Northern Ireland. They have volunteered in their hundreds for the emergency clinics. They and their staff have volunteered to work in other parts of the health care system that are under pressure. They have donated their oxygen cylinders to the hospitals and have donated all spare masks and gloves to care homes and pharmacies who couldn’t get supplies.

Once this is over I am looking forward to retirement for the second time and hope that this time will be on a more permanent basis.

Richard Graham