Has private dentistry been abandoned?

Neel Kothari speaks about the future of private dentistry in the face of coronavirusNeel Kothari speaks about his concerns regarding the future of private dentistry in the face of COVID-19. 

Let me start by stating the obvious: every government department is focused on one thing, the country’s fight against coronavirus – and rightly so.

This article is in no way a criticism of the excellent work carried out so far by organisations like the BDA, of which I am a proud member. Nor is it intended to place finances above the sombre reality that many people will die as a result of COVID-19. The work carried out by the government and the BDA has helped to secure the conditions of much of the dental workforce. But not for those who are self-employed and previously earning over £50,000 per year. They are left feeling abandoned and fearful over what this may mean for their practices.

Further, many are left confused as to what private dentistry can and cannot provide. In a recent article (26th March), the GDC states: ‘practitioners providing NHS services will of course need to adhere to the directions given by their nation’s chief dental officer; other practitioners will want to take that into account in making decisions’. This strongly infers that private practitioners have the potential to carry on working.

In many ways this statement creates more questions than answers. In writing this article, there are many aspects that leave me deeply conflicted. I remain confused as to the direct risks to dentists and their teams when providing emergency care to asymptomatic patients. I’m also worried that these risks will still exist for quite some time. But in the absence of financial support, many practices will not be able to sustain their fixed overheads indefinitely.

Matter of urgency

This then raises the uncomfortable truth that many private practitioners will at some point choose (or will be forced) to take the gamble and provide some form of care to keep their practices afloat or decide to simply fold. Let’s be clear, most practice insurances will not pay for business interruption. There is no financial help and the generosity shown by some companies during this crisis will not last forever.

In my opinion, at present it is a huge risk for private dentists to see patients directly, despite the GDC inferring its possibility. When social distancing rules relax the profession may be placed in a challenging position; whilst those with NHS contracts seem to be supported by public funds, there is little guidance for private dentists.

Mat Lowis of Earlsfield Dental Studios said: ‘Whilst we are closed, most of the usual expenses will continue to go out of the business. We don’t really understand why we have been omitted from the benefits which have been offered to other businesses. We feel very let down. While we are still hopeful that the government will take notice, we don’t feel we are being heard.’

It is now becoming increasingly clear that routine dentistry restrictions currently have no end date. Many will be able to weather the storm for a few weeks – perhaps even longer. But without some sort of financial support, regardless of how little, many dental practices will be growing increasingly worried. In my opinion, this issue now needs attention as a matter of urgency.

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