Dentistry must prepare to deal with an increased demand for treatment in 2021
In recent times the dental industry has endured as many setbacks as any business. Fully three months of lockdown throughout the Spring and Summer of 2020 left UK dentists with an enormous backlog of patients.
Yet, despite the COVID19 pandemic, dental workers have gone above and beyond to service patients in their surgeries and even on video conferences. The NHS itself has created 650 additional dental hubs to support patients throughout COVID-19.
The real challenge is yet to come, as time progresses and the post-pandemic landscape takes shape, dentists move to reduce the number of outstanding patients and procedures.
Paramount to the survival and success of dentists in the post-pandemic landscape is the means to operate safely and successfully as a business and to continue to meet the requirements of the backlog of patients. As such, a ready supply of working capital should be at the top of the list of priorities for every practice.
The challenge of COVID-19
All of the issues already facing NHS dentists have been brought to light and accelerated by COVID19. Practices across the UK have been hobbled by the restrictions rightly imposed in the form of safety protocols, as a result of the pandemic.
Compounded by the imposition of three periods of national lockdown and, perhaps more importantly, the widespread national fear of a potentially fatal airborne virus that is passed when in close contact with another person.
Three key factors influenced the statistics from the British Dental Association’s annual report in 2020:
Surgeries were unable to operate for up to three months of 2020.
Additional safety and cleaning protocols decreased the number of available appointments in a single day.
And patients either could not or chose not, to make and attend appointments as a result of the pandemic.
The result of the latter was:
“The number of missed (unattended) dental appointments in England reached 14 million as a result of COVID-19.”
UK dentistry found itself in the eye of a very public storm in February 2020 following the report of the national watchdog Healthwatch. The report led by Sir Robert Francis QC described a 452% rise in calls and complaintsabout the industry throughout the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020. At the heart of the issue is the challenges constantly faced by NHS dentists in the requirement to service NHS patients efficiently, while simultaneously operating successfully at a commercial level.
“The COVID-19 crisis has impacted on many areas of NHS support but, problems in dental care appear to be particularly acute.”
At first glance, and without context, the statistics seem damning. Stories from the research ranged from patients being forced to either pay for private dental care to even pulling their own teeth.
The underlying challenge to UK dentists
Beyond the clickbait, the report tells the story of an industry with a massive pent-up demand caused by the pandemic and a history of years of structural challenges.
Dentists have been criticised for having prioritised private care or alternatively, having asked patients to pay private fees if they require treatment. The fact remains that dental practices need to continue to operate successfully as businesses, otherwise they won’t be able to service anybody, be they NHS patients or private.
Pushing back on the report and highlighting the challenge faced by UK dentists, Chairman of the British Dental Association, Shawn Charlwood expressed his concern and frustration that the NHS pays too little attention to the needs of a dental practice to function as a business in its own right.
“The NHS is forcing dentists to prioritise volume over need by imposing inappropriate targets”.
It is imperative that every dentist sets themselves up for success in 2021. The working capital requirements of the industry will be bigger than they have ever been as practices will simply require more of everything to operate and meet the pent-up demand for treatment.
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