It has been a difficult time for private dental practices during the Covid-19 pandemic. FHDC’s Managing Partner, Adrian Precious, highlights some of the challenges that dentistry in general is facing and how FHDC is planning for re-opening…
“Covid-19 has affected every single one of us in the UK and around the world. The human cost has been immense. As I write this over thirty thousand people have died due to Covid-19 in the UK. Our hearts go out to everyone who has lost a friend, loved one or colleague during this worldwide pandemic.
Despite being physically closed and routine dental care having been stopped nationally for over six weeks now, we have had a dentist available to speak to our patients seven days a week. We continue to offer telephone advice and prescribe analgesics and antibiotics and any urgent dental treatment is being referred to new Urgent Dental Centres during this virus ‘delay phase’.
In addition to the health impact of the virus, there has also been an economic impact too. Unlike the retail and leisure sectors that can access government support for costs such as business rates; dentistry and other healthcare providers (such as chiropractors and physiotherapists) cannot. This is putting independent healthcare providers like FHDC under immense pressure.
Some people believe that every dental practice in the UK receives government funding through the NHS. As an independent dental practice, FHDC does not receive any NHS subsidy or government funding for the dental care we provide. Our revenue is created purely from the fees that we generate through the dental services we provide.
Fortunately our bank has been supportive and has been helping us get through this challenging time. We have also received furlough support for our dental nursing and reception employees, so we can protect the jobs of these vital members of the team for when we can reopen again.
The Prime Minister is set to announce how the country will exit lock down this week. I eagerly await details of this strategy as we want to get FHDC open again and restart providing routine dental care. We suspect though that general dentistry will not be ‘released’ straight away and it may not be business as usual though for some time.
We expect that all general dental practices will have restrictions placed upon them. This will include new social distancing measures, enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and additional time between appointments for surgery cleaning and cross infection control.
The introduction of such social distancing and cross infection control measures will likely make the process of dentistry more complicated, less efficient and reduce available capacity. A visit to the dentist is unlikely to be the same post Covid-19 as it was before Covid-19 (at least for the short to mid term until a vaccine is found). There may be less appointment availability, there may be some restrictions on what treatments can be provided and unfortunately it may be also be more expensive, as the cost to provide dental care could increase because of these factors.
For example, during this delay phase of Covid-19 management, in Urgent Dental Centres each surgery has to be left empty for an hour following an aerosol generating procedure (AGP), before cleaning the room for the next patient. As all treatment using a high-speed hand-piece (dentist drill) are classed as AGP’s, this would mean a surgery has to be left for an hour after each filling, crown preparation or root canal treatment before it can then be cleaned for the next patient. Whilst this may be relaxed after the delay phase, we do anticipate additional ‘downtime’ will be advised for general practice between appointments.
Another example will be the cost of PPE. Prior to Covid-19 the clinical team used surgical masks as face protection. These only costed ‘pennies’ each. New FFP3 respirator masks that we expect to have to use for AGP’s are currently £10-15 each and surgical masks are now costing significantly more too. We also anticipate a need for new gowns, hair coverings and aprons etc. Again in time we hope that these requirements will be relaxed and also costs will reduce as worldwide supply chains and product availability improves.
That’s all the ‘bad news’ out of the way.
We can’t argue or disagree with the impact of the virus. We can only move forward. The ‘good news’ is that whilst Far Headingley Dental Care has been forced to close, we have taken the opportunity to review our systems and processes so that when we do re-open, we will be focused and ready.
We have built FHDC over the last 14+ years on a simple foundation of three basic principles… Quality, Safety & Efficiency. This remains our focus as we plan to re-open the practice.
From a quality perspective we have a fantastic highly skilled team and we invest in new technology and high quality dental materials & laboratories. Over the years we have received lots of lovely feedback from our patients on the quality of the care and dentistry that we provide and we see nothing ahead of us that will reduce the quality of what we provide at FHDC.
Safety has always been the number one priority at FHDC. We were already following the ‘Best Practice’ cross infection control guidance from the Department of Health. We are now planning on how we can proactively introduce the expected further enhancements to cross infection control procedures at FHDC and also how we can implement new social distancing measures to keep our team and our patients safe.
We are developing new internal ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ based on those used by the Urgent Dental Centres. Whilst we hope that not all of these measures will ultimately be required, we feel it is best to plan for the most difficult scenario, and work backwards once guidance is relaxed.
Despite worldwide shortages of items such as FFP3 masks and clinical gowns, we have been working very hard over last month to procure these. I am being trained as a ‘Respirator Mask Fit Tester’ so that internally at FHDC we will know that we are using the correct masks, in the correct way to keep our patients and team safe. As each mask is different and has to be fit tested, being able to test respirator masks in house hopefully means that we will be able to quickly react to market supply opportunities to maintain supply and reduce costs.
As for how will we improve efficiency, this will come through training our team and investing in new technology. We have taken the opportunity whilst closed to invest in improvements to our IT systems and dental practice management software.
Below is our new faster, more robust and more secure server with it’s lights flashing for the first time and demonstrating the new beginnings at FHDC
We are planning for the introduction of online booking, remote form filling for essential information such as medical histories and treatment plan acceptance, appointment book zoning for vulnerable patients and automated patient recalling. All of this will help improve efficiency and simplify the ‘patient journey’ for our registered patients when we can open up for dental care again at the practice.
We hope that restrictions will be lifted soon. All of us at FHDC look forward to seeing patients at the practice again and we thank you for choosing Far Headingley Dental Care. Let’s hope we have planned for the worst case scenario and in reality the challenges will be less when we are open again.
Please keep safe and until we are open again, if you need us, please refer to our Coronavirus (Covid-19) update page for the latest information”.
Adrian Precious MBA FCMI
Managing Partner – FHDC