Huge infection control breach at Sydney dental practices

infection control breach
Dr Shane Fryer from the Dental Council of NSW says the breach of infection control guidelines have resulted in six dentists being suspended.

NSW Health and the Dental Council of New South Wales held a press conference Thursday morning to warn patients at four private Sydney dental clinics over the past several years see their GP for testing for blood-borne viruses. It is believed that up to 11,000 patients may be effected.

The four surgeries are The Gentle Dentist, located in both Campsie and the Sydney Central Business District (CBD), and Dr Robert Craige Starkenburg’s clinics at Bondi Junction and Surry Hills.

The advice follows a Dental Council of NSW and NSW Health investigation of the clinics, which has identified multiple infection control breaches have likely occurred over an extended period.

The Gentle Dentist clinics are owned by Dr Samson Chan, who had his registration suspended in mid-March following an investigation by the Dental Council, are still operating. Dr Starkenburg’s practice has been closed.

Speaking at the press conference on Thursday morning on behalf of the Dental Council, Dr Shane Fryer explained that, “Since the suspension of Dr Chan’s registration, an expert consultant has gone to the practice and provided further advice and information. The Dental Council has been provided with a copy of that report, and the practices are now consistent with the relevant National Guidelines.”

When asked whether he would feel confident having a root canal at a Gentle Dentist surgery today, Dr Fryer replied: “Yes, I believe so.”

Following Dr Chan’s suspension, a further 18 dental practitioners from the Gentle Dentist were investigated. Four were also suspended (sometime during April) and six had conditions placed on their registration.

NSW Health’s Blood Borne Viruses Advisory Panel has reviewed the circumstances at the dental practices, including detailed analyses of infection control methods applied. It concluded that there was a potential risk of transmission of the blood-borne viruses hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV to patients who have had invasive procedures at the clinics.

However, according to Dr Jeremy McAnulty, Director, Health Protection, NSW Health, the risk of transmission of a blood-borne virus to any individual patient during the periods of concern is low. To date, he added, there have been no cases of blood borne virus infection identified that are known to be associated with any of these dental practices.

In newspaper reports in Fairfax newspapers, Dr Chan allegedly blamed the infection control breaches on inexperienced staff. By contrast, Dr Starkenburg allegedly told the same papers that his age (75) had made it difficult for him keeping up with the changing regulations around infection control.

Part of the reason for the public alert is a problem with the adequacy of Dr Starkenburg’s record-keeping. Dr Starkenburg practised at 108 Bronte Road at Bondi Junction between 2005 and 2014 and at 75 Fitzroy Street in Surry Hills from 1990 to 2007. About 800 people are anticipated to have attended one or both of these dental surgeries during these years.

NSW Health says that due to inadequate patient records at Dr Starkenburg’s surgeries, it is not possible to determine which patients had invasive procedures. It is recommended all of Dr Starkenburg’s patients be tested for blood-borne virus infections as a precaution and correspondence has been sent to all patients for which there are contact details. Dr Starkenburg was suspended from practice on 2 December 2014.

The Gentle Dentist has been able to provide contact details for most of its patients, and correspondence has been sent to those patients identified at risk.

NSW Health has established a public information line staffed to assist patients of either practice who may have questions on 1800 610 344.



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