It is a well-established part of a every trip to the dentist – leafing through a dog-eared copy of a glossy magazine while awaiting your turn in the chair. But this familiar ritual is now under threat after NHS officials issued a warning to dentists to stop keeping back issues of periodicals in their waiting room, because they are a health and safety risk. They believe that the magazines could be responsible for helping to spread bacteria and should be thrown out after just a week.
One of those to receive the new advice was Monica Symes, who runs a dental practice in Lyme Regis, Dorset. She was visited by an NHS infection control worker who criticised the age of the magazines available in her waiting room and warned that they could lead to her failing an inspection by the Care Quality Commission, the NHS regulator. The dentist, 65, who has practised for more than 30 years, said: "I was told that I ought not to have any magazines out that are more than a week old, because the Care Quality Commission wouldn't like it.
"Mostly the magazines aren't very old, I subscribe to Country Life and Private Eye and bring them in when I've finished them, and then there are other ones like Gardeners' World and Heat, which staff and patients bring in. I can't believe they would pose any risk to patients." Although some of the magazines were older – with Miss Symes admitting that one copy of Gardeners' World dated from 2004 – she said patients had never complained about stumbling on an old publication.
"Generally we try to keep up-to-date," she said, "but plenty of old magazines are quite interesting and quite often patients will ask if I mind if they take one away". Miss Symes said the "infection control facilitator", employed by Dorset Primary Care Trust, also said that to meet the requirements of CQC, the dentist must stop using Blu-Tack, because it created a "cross infection" risk, if reused, and should have all the cushions in the waiting room reupholstered.