Finding the new normal

BDIA questions what the new normal will look likeEdmund Proffitt talks to Guy Hiscott about how the dental industry is standing up to be counted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

How has the BDIA been responding to the COVID-19 crisis?

Edmund Proffitt (EP): A leading corporate and government resilience expert recently told me that, apart from how an organisation deals with all the critical everyday challenges that COVID-19 throws up, a key measure at the end of all this – for organisations of all types –will be: ‘What was your company/organisation remembered for?’

As the trade body responsible for the manufacturers and suppliers of dental equipment and services, the British Dental Industry Association (BDIA) is aiming to be remembered for providing help and support, direction, and leadership. To that end we have been concentrating on four key areas so far during the crisis.

Firstly, we are working with various government departments and organisations to assist where we can with personal protective equipment (PPE) supply issues.

Secondly, we have been guiding our members through, and assisting them with, the various government support measures. These are available to help and support businesses through these challenging times.

Thirdly, we are providing daily, and often more frequent, updates on areas that impact members and the provision of dentistry and the dental profession. So members are familiar with the various updates, guidance and mechanisms that impact on and challenge their customers as well as themselves.

Finally, we have launched an initiative to look at mitigating the impacts of aerosol generating procedures (AGPs). This will contribute towards the wide-scale resumption of treatments when government guidance allows.

How has the pandemic hit the UK dental industry?

EP: The industry covers many different and diverse businesses. But on the whole, with the cessation of all general dental activity, dental sales have drastically reduced. This means that the majority of members have had to take up a number of the government’s business support schemes. Like many other sectors, a good number of dental companies currently have staff on furlough.

How are BDIA members trying to help dentists through this time?

EP: Dental companies can help their customers in a number of ways.

They can keep in touch with customers to offer any advice where patients need it. And where required, they can supply products and services. Particularly to the urgent dental care centres. I have seen some great examples of helpful communications available from members. Companies are also hosting webinars and discussion forums, as well as offering CPD and training too. Dental businesses are also looking forward. Planning on how best to support customers on the resumption of more widespread treatment.

The BDIA is working with its members on the BDIA ARC (AGP Resilience Challenge) initiative. We are looking at the shape of ‘post lockdown’ dentistry. How we can provide dentistry, how safe it is for patients and clinicians, and what the ‘new normal’ is.

The industry and profession need to work together to plot a course to for the resumption of treatments going forwards.

 How are dental sectors across the world reacting to the crisis?

EP: A number of our members have global reach. Many have contacts across Europe, and we have members exporting to over 120 counties. In short, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

However, across nearly all of Europe and the rest of the world, pretty much all dentistry outside of emergency treatments has ground to a halt. The supply of products has followed suit. Both dental professionals, their staff and the industry are all keeping their fingers crossed for the sign of green shoots and a way back to more widespread dental activity.

What role do you see the dental industry play in helping practices get back on their feet?

EP: As I said earlier, by working closely with the profession, we hope that we can together provide a safe and confidence-inspiring environment for patients returning to receive new or delayed dental treatment. Practices will have to adopt to new procedures, approaches, treatments, and technologies. This will ensure we are all on top of the challenges that COVID-19 throws at us. The industry will be there to play its part.

What challenges lie in wait for the industry and the profession as we come through the pandemic?

EP: One of the most significant emerging challenges will be dealing with infection control and AGPs if we loosen lockdown. Especially if there are any delays or problems with antibody testing and vaccine research.

In guidance released by NHS England and the chief dental officer, it is clear that AGPs are a very significant concern due to their potential for transmitting the virus. AGPs account for a large proportion of dental activity. They present a particular challenge in terms of adopting appropriate personal protective equipment, decontamination procedures. As we mentioned earlier, this is a key area that the industry and profession can work together.

Otherwise, the main challenge will be getting to grips with what will emerge as the ‘new normal’ and resuming dental provision, building patient confidence.

The key to getting dental activity back on track lies in:

  • Reducing infection risks, to allow the;
  • Resumption of dental provision, which will require the adoption of…
  • New approaches, products and treatments, and inevitable changes to the..
  • Structure of NHS/private dentistry.

What advice would you give to any companies that are struggling at the moment?

EP: Try and maintain a presence and link with your customers or patients.Take advantage of whatever government schemes you can and try and retain key staff and plan your exit strategy and business plan.

And don’t forget to think about ‘what was your company/organisation remembered for?’ when some sort of normality is resumed.

What will the ‘new normal’ look like for the foreseeable future, in your opinion?

EP: This will depend massively on the pace and success of testing and vaccine development and production.

Optimistically, widespread antibody testing, a gradual untightening of lockdown, complemented by good progress with a vaccine, could see a relatively quick return to a recognisable normality.

Setbacks with testing and a vaccine, and a possible second and third peak developing from any mistimed extension of ‘freedoms’ could see us fall in and out of various degrees of lockdown as infection ebbs and flows. A ‘new normal’ may look very different as the pandemic drags on well into 2021.

Ending on a more optimistic tone, it would be good to see a gradual resumption of more widespread dentistry during the later summer with more time-consuming decontamination protocols. But as Robert Peston told me earlier this week, don’t expect to visit a pub for a pint much before the end of the year at the earliest!