The Dental Defence Union (DDU) is advising dental practices to ensure their policies are updated to ensure patients can attend appointments with assistance dogs.
In the latest edition of the DDU journal, the DDU notes that under equality and discrimination law, reasonable adjustments should be made to ensure access to dental treatment facilities for patients with assistance dogs. This can include not only guide or hearing dogs but also dogs helping patients with other conditions.
Alison Large, DDU dento-legal adviser, commented: ‘According to Assistance Dogs UK, over 7,000 disabled people in the UK rely on an assistance dog to help with practical tasks - offering emotional support and independence.
‘One of those tasks may be to support a patient when attending a dental appointment, so it’s important for our members to know how to deal with such a scenario. While the term 'assistance dog' most commonly refers to guide or hearing dogs, it can also mean service dogs for those with other conditions. While many dogs receive specific training some assistance dogs can be owner selected and trained.’
The DDU explains that healthcare professionals have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled users to access services. The Equality Act 2010, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland, require access to dental treatment facilities for assistance dogs. In addition, staff must not treat the owner less favourably due to their impairment. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also produced a guide for businesses on assistance dogs.
Advice from the Guide Dogs charity also explains ‘there may be areas within the health facility where a guide dog may not be permitted due to infection control or health and safety issues’ in which case alternative support will be required for the patient and a suitable location found for the assistance dog to be left safely.
Alison Large concluded: ‘If a staff member is allergic to dogs or has a phobia, then the practice should take reasonable steps to minimise that individual’s exposure to assistance dogs. However, neither are valid reasons for denying an assistance dog entry to the practice.’