Simon Thackeray

Some blunt dental views from Yorkshire

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Simon Thackeray

Simon Thackeray

Simon has been a GDP since qualifying in 1991, initially in the NHS, and since 2005 in private practice in Nottinghamshire. He is a critic of the increasing and often unnecessary bureaucracy surrounding dental practice. As a practice owner and Yorkshireman having to deal with this, Simon has a tendency to direct and forthright comment, especially when it gets in the way of true patient care.
 
06
Dec
0
Posted by on in Simon Thackeray

We’re all members of a cult. Whether we like it or not, since mankind first appeared on earth, there has been a need for the majority of humans to flock together in some form or another. Whether it was for protection by strength of numbers, or to increase the genetic variety of a group, the formation of cults, tribes or groups has always been something that the human race has experienced.

I’m not talking here about race-related groupings of human, because that is something far more fundamental. That is all about the genetics that make you part of one race or another, and there is precious little you can actually do about the genes you were born with.

What I’m thinking about here is the tribal nature that makes you support one football team over another, or a different political party to someone else. Religion may also be part of this, but I am going to steer well clear of that for obvious reasons. However what is apparent is that most of these tribes and cults  are based on the shared values and belief structures that the members of the cult have.

“Where is he going with this blog?” I can hear you all thinking. This is not one of my normal types of observational commentary on the state of dentistry where I’m having a go at some (dis)organisation or system in dentistry.

Or is it?

Because it actually is exactly the same as usual in that I’m pointing out something that I believe is fundamentally inherent to the problems that we are experiencing in the profession at the moment.

Cults and tribes are collections of people who flock together under one belief structure. The profession of dentistry is such a tribe. We all share the same skill set fundamentally, and are working together to provide the same goal of health for our patients.

But within a tribe are often sub-tribes and cults. These are the things that seem to me to be dividing the profession in more ways than one and can often cause problems. When we look internally we see the infighting between some of the orthodontists and those providing GDP orthodontics. You can guarantee a lengthy ‘discussion’; when some of the more evangelical on both sides come out to discuss their views on this subject. The same is true of the two cults of private and NHS dentistry.

It is actually possible to be a member of different cults at the same time, and cross over seamlessly from one to another depending on the situation. You might find yourself agreeing with someone from another cult one minute, and then vehemently arguing the next.

When your strongly held values and belief structure is in disagreement with someone else’s equally strongly held views then conflict is almost inevitable. Only the control of the emotional aspects of these differences is what prevents the breakdown of the relationship between these two sides. Some people are able to control it more than others and agree to disagree, but many others are not.

Dentistry is absolutely full of cults.

More so than I think it has ever been before. I personally think the rise of social media and the ease with which one like-minded individual can find others who are from the came cult has been at least partially to blame.

The problems arise when the cults cause not only infighting in the profession, but also are responsible for the perception of the profession to the public (who I’ll just take as one big tribe at the moment).

Within the profession we have the cult of the Key Opinion Leader, some of whom seem to have opinions based on their parallel membership of the financially motivated cult, and who can pay them the most. Then we have the Celebrity dentist cult, often admitting to no personal or clinical failings and who may have sprung from anonymity in record time, with fawning acolytes who can see no fault in their heros. Given the following of some of these two groups, I’m actually waiting to read in the BDA news that 600 cult members have all drunk copious quantities of Hypo in a mass attempt to align their teeth. Ok, maybe that’s a bit far, but what will usually happen is the acolytes will be the ones who get left in the lurch either with the GDC or with a load of obsolete materials when the Guru-esque leader moves onto the next best thing since the last best thing.

There is the huge cult of the NHS dentist, who can often see no way out of the cult, but stay because they are also members of the ‘I’m alright Jack, my pension’s great’ cult or the ‘We cant go private where we are’ cult. There is also the sinister ‘Gamers’ cult, where you’re a member but don’t admit to it, either because you don’t want to, or because you don’t realise you are.

I could go on and on with this but I think I’ve made my point.

I’ve probably managed to alienate a huge chunk of my readers now with those analogies (perhaps it would have been more sensible writing a blog on the various religions after all !) because I’m sure you now will find yourself both agreeing and disagreeing with me and become annoyed at me in some way.

The point I’m making is that the values and beliefs that we have developed place us firmly in pigeonholes and groups in such a way that someone else can make an observation that can start a conflict if you don’t like it. I’ve done precisely that in the previous paragraphs.

But the above is all a myth based on your belief structure, which can be changed if you really want it to. Do you want to be a member of the cult of materialistic egotistical, self-promoters? Fine, do that, but then don’t be shocked when others take issue with that.

Until we have the unification of the profession behind one overriding cult then we will always be divided. Since these cults are nothing to do with our genetics but only down to our beliefs, it is all an entirely fictional situation that causes the problem; a brainwashing due to our desire to hold onto our beliefs and opinions.

We need to not become a profession against itself especially as we have enough external factors affecting us already. Unity and a sense of purpose is more important now that it ever has been.

 

 

Image credit - Legominifig under CC licence - not modified.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd
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13
Nov
1
Posted by on in Simon Thackeray

No one can deny that modern technology has been a revelation in recent years. The use of it to improve diagnostic yields in radiography, to allow mainstream imaging in practice of aspects of dental tissues that we couldn’t previously visualise the same way  can only benefit our patients. Computerisation of dental notes and management systems, (whilst restricted in the choice of manufacturers) have probably improved the efficiency of most dental practices far beyond that of the old paper systems. Digital marketing tools, online presence through websites and blogs, and social media are all here to stay, and have driven the profile of the profession upwards. All in all, I think most of us would agree, technology has been largely a good thing for the profession

But one thing that I am REALLY struggling with that has come about as a result of this type of technology is the increase in Referral Portals for NHS referrals. On the face of it is would seem to be a streamlining of the process needed to refer into secondary care, and reduce the costs and problems with paper referrals. Entering the data via a computer linked to the patient database and directly into the referral systems would seem on the face of it far more efficient that writing a letter and posting it.

So why do I have an issue with it? This sort of advanced technology is right up my street normally. However, because of the way these systems seem to be implemented, I can see potential problems for registrants falling foul of the GDC Standards when they are forced to use them. The GDC standards that I personally think relate to this type of system are :

 

Standard 1.7 – Put patients interests first before your own or those of any colleague, business or ORGANISATION – these systems tend to be imposed unilateral decisions that don’t seem to have any guarantee that they are better for the patient (or indeed tested fully).

Standard 4.2.6 - If a patient allows you to share information about them, you should ensure that anyone you share it with understands that it is confidential – How does a faceless system with no identification of who receives the data comply with this standard?

Standard 6.3 – Delegate and refer appropriately and effectively. However, someone else often choses where the patient goes and who they see, with the clinician often having no idea of the degree of expertise that clinician actually has. Referrals are even rejected if often irrelevant (but required) tickboxes are not filled in.

Standard 6.1.5 – You must ensure that all patients are fully informed of the names and roles of the dental professionals involved in their care - How does a portal allow us to do this? Do we give all our patients Bill Gates’ name as its done on a PC?

Standard 6.3.1 - You can delegate the responsibility for a task but not the accountability. This means that, although you can ask someone to carry out a task for you, you could still be held accountable if something goes wrong. You should only delegate or refer to another member of the team if you are confident that they have been trained and are both competent and indemnified to do what you are asking.

For me this is the big problem. This alone is where the entire concept falls down unless we are indemnified for the errors of the system. What if this is a life changing referral such as a tumour? You are going to be ultimately responsible as you have to make the referral, and you can guarantee the powers that be who thought it was a good idea to impose the portal will NOT indemnify you against the failure of the referral in some way, nor will the GDC.  If the referral is rejected because of some missing tickbox that is largely irrelevant to the immediate urgency but required because some software engineer hasn’t allowed any flexibility in implementation then I personally cant see how this should ever be the responsibility of the clinician. The fact I might for example omit the patients GP because I’m more interested in the speed of the referral is a pedantic bureaucratic issue and not one of patient care.

I can’t comprehend how we as a profession have allowed this type of loss of control of patient care to creep into our referral systems. I am fairly sure there are practices that are on referral pathways that our patients will be allocated to that many of us would not be happy for them being treated in. Part of being a professional means that you take on the ultimate responsibility for the care of a patient, and the GDC standards means that includes ensuring they are referred to an appropriate colleague. Unless every single one of these referrals is triaged by a clinician then there will be mistakes made. And this pre-assumes the system actually works like it should…..

I have had the misfortune recently of being forced onto a pilot in my local area of just one of these systems. Due to the obviously more knowledgeable people in charge of procurement in my area, they foisted a system onto practitioners without actually discussing anything with them first. To say I experienced problems was an understatement, and I know many others did too (despite the LAT saying the response to their questionnaires about it was overwhelmingly favourable – presumably because the portal lost as many bad responses as it did referrals). To be quite honest, I would have been better served learning how to send smoke signal referrals rather than use the system that was imposed. I did some research into the actual system and found that it had been dropped by at least one area as it was unsatisfactory, and another region have accepted that the same system isn’t good, but it’s the best they’ve seen. Hardly a glowing endorsement is it?

For example, in the 2 months I used it, we experienced a plethora of problems. I don’t think it is particularly useful to have to spend over TWO HOURS trying to upload a Periapical radiograph, knowing that if it wasn’t sent the referral would have been rejected. This was a compressed file of just 103kb. I don’t think it is particularly helpful to have half the tick boxes missing for medical histories, or dropdowns that you can’t fill in because they are incorrectly populated. A spell check that allows only the incorrect spelling of a drug is also pretty useless. It’s not useful that the system doesn’t tell you if the referral has gone correctly, or instead forever been lost in the ether of the internet. It’s not professional to have no idea who you have just referred the patient to or who is going to read the information. Not particularly useful if your patient who doesn’t have an email address (like many of my elderly patients) can’t even be referred at all as the system refuses to accept the referral without their email address. It also falls foul of my data security policy of allowing an unknown (to me) commercial third party installing software onto my system (which is massively firewalled both by hardware and software – which would appear to more than can be said for the NHS system if the recent Cryptolocker problem is anything to go by).

But having the system obviously ticks another box for those who confuse boxticking with patient care. By having a system that once again means all the responsibility still lies with the registrant even though they have no control of it is highly convenient for the powers that be. They get to have a load of committee meetings about the procurement, knowing full well that if and when it fails, and if and when patients suffer from it, it will be the clinicians who will get the blame for it. Having a system imposed from above without actually making sure it works is nothing new: lets face it the NHS hardly have a great track record in getting IT infrastructure correct out do they? Heaven help us if our friends at Capita get involved with implementing one of these systems; patients will probably end up with an 18 month wait instead of an 18 week wait. Still, at least losing patients in the system will make the waiting lists look good for the managers and they can get their bonuses for being so successful…..

So unless we get some form of indemnification from those who perpetually get to wash their hands of responsibility, I can’t see how we can use these portals and still adhere to our required standards. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

 

Image by Benjamin White

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd, 2017
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02
Oct
2
Posted by on in Simon Thackeray

No one can have missed the inexorable rise in the use of social media for virtually every kind of interaction we experience in the modern world. From a few users 10 years ago there would appear to be now virtually every corner of the globe unaffected by it (except for maybe some long lost Amazonian tribes – lucky them).

Dentistry has not been slow to embrace this revolution, and as a mechanism of disseminating information world wide, sharing new techniques, and even asking advice about a case, then it there is no doubt that is it hugely helpful. Accessing social media though our smartphones is perhaps the most common application of this media, and it is thought that phones are now become part of the way in which we experience life, and how we form our memories. Certainly, creating a virtual scrapbook on our social media persona that shares with other people is something that will help you look back on events perhaps differently to how you did in the past.

But I worry that some people don’t understand the dangers of social media enough. I’ve written about this before on this blog, and the majority of what I said then holds true now. But there now seem to be some people who take the whole social media thing to be a benchmark by which they should measure their own lives against. There is a relatively new Facebook group called ‘Mental Dental’ which was set up to help dentists with some of the challenging mental health issues that can occur in our profession. Personally as someone who has suffered mental health issues in the past, I think it’s a pretty crass title, but the ethos of the group is actually a pretty good one. Whilst much of the time it might be seen as a moaning forum, there are some quite worrying threads that appear from time to time, and it may be that having this type of forum is beneficial to those wanting to ask advice, or just offload anonymously.

However, one of the recent threads that drew my attention was a post about how a practitioner felt he or she was so unsuccessful when compared to all the other dentists who were posting their personal and professional successes all over social media. This concern was so great in this practitioners mind that they were considering leaving the profession because of it. There has always been a degree of ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ in all aspects of our lives, and until one becomes satisfied with themselves as a person, there might always be a tendency to search for success via the medium of materialistic gains. However, what struck me in this case was what appears to be the sheer despair this person was feeling, and all as a result of what some people post on social media.

Social media to this person had become the real world, and the posts of amazing composites, perfect implants, and then fast cars, and exotic holidays was seen as the absolute reality of other peoples lives. The superficiality of such posts is obvious to many, but not to others who may already be suffering from a change in their perception of the world due to the mental health issues that appear to be quite common in our profession. It might not be so easy to ignore these sorts of posts when someone is feeling depressed by the profession, and the damage that this can then do could potentially be quite serious.

There seems to be a lack of humility generally on social media that is behind these types of posts. Whilst it is everyone’s right to post what they want and when they want, certainly the ‘Look at Me aren’t I great’, or the so-called ‘Humble brag’ type of posts sometimes serve only to sometimes make other people feel negatively toward the poster, or more worryingly, negative towards themselves. There is no background to a social media post usually, so the context is completely lost. Does the poster EVER have a bad day? Do they Ever have things go wrong in Clinic? Have they ever worried about their Health/Finances etc.? Given the tone of many of the posts we see, the answer to all the above appears to be no.

It’s important then to keep in mind all that happens on social media is NOT necessarily true, and that we should look more deeply into posts like this. It is vitally important that we should all keep in touch with the real world around us.

Social media is here to stay, but it needs taking with a large pinch of salt at times.

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd, 2017
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25
Aug
0
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It has been a little while since I last wrote this blog. Various things have taken over as they tend to do in life, and the blog unfortunately was something that seemed to never quite get done. However, I’ve now found myself back in the writing frame of mind, and I still seem to have opinions that some will agree with and no doubt others will disagree with, so here we go with some more ramblings of a Yorkshireman.

I have still been keenly observing what has been going on with regards to the profession over the last few months, and there still seem to be the same old problems surfaces that always have. I shall be writing about all of these issues in the near future.

The GDC seems to still be a problem to many, and personally whilst it seems to be to have become more aware of its previous problems, I don’t think it can truly move on whilst the current chair is still at the helm. It is time for a registrant to be in charge again, and for Dr Moyes to be moved to some other Quango where he can’t oversee damage to the morale of an entire profession.

Social media is also still a hot topic, and the GDC have now issued a case study on this. Some of the profession are obviously of the opinion that social media is the real world, and seemingly lack the ability to see it in its true context. There is a lack of humility in the profession where social media is concerned, and huge damage can occur to people when they believe that all they see on their iPhone is the unadulterated truth. It isn’t.

The lack of a new NHS contract, or anything really concrete is also concerning. However, I have a fairly simple view on this. We must be deluded as a profession if we think for one moment that there is suddenly going to be a fantastic new contract that will give the patients and us everything we ask for. I will guarantee that any new contract will primarily be worded to the benefit of the DoH so that the dentists can be held responsible for whatever goes wrong with it.

I’ll write more on these subjects in the coming weeks. But for this blog I though I would concentrate on something that has seemed to be brewing for quite a time, and might actually be reaching a tipping point.

 

Indemnity.

Now, I can remember when my indemnity was about £1200 a year, and didn’t particularly change by much annually. But now, as a principal dentist working full time, it is £5800. This increase is over the period of about 10 years. We have seen an increase in both the activity of the GDC and especially negligence solicitors in this time, which it is claimed to account for the increase in our costs.

Indemnity is a little bit like car insurance in that you hope you will never need it, but it is a necessary evil to have. With the costs of legal representation being what they are, and the increase in the amount of cases being brought, it is not really surprising that costs rise year on year.

But how do we know how these costs are calculated individually? If you are a young driver with a fast car (which you will no doubt be flaunting on Facebook!) then you are likely to be a higher risk than an older person in a more sedate family saloon. This doesn’t necessarily translate to your dental indemnity though. It seems that the longer you are in the profession, the more likelihood you are to be sued and thus have higher premiums. Perhaps the reason for this is that when these practitioners retire, often the patients are found to have large amounts of remedial dentistry to be done. This may be the case, and I am aware of some dentists who have built up a good practice on rectifying this type of problem, especially when they perhaps encourage the patient to take some form of action against the previous dentist.

I’m not saying a wrong shouldn’t be corrected in that situation, but there do seem to be some dentists who are quite happy to throw colleagues under the bus in order to ensure they get the benefit of the patient charges to rectify the problems. Perhaps ‘There but for the grace of god go I’ would be an apt phrase to remind those considering this course of action. In addition, they will also find that their indemnity is going to increase also when this happens.

Because that’s how this kind of indemnity really works; the current members are paying for the claims that are currently being made and are going to be made in the future. In much the same way as the state pension works.  We can’t have an indemnity company suddenly have empty coffers, so they have a duty to ensure they assess the needs of the society to actively have the funds to cover their expenses. All of this is paid for by the membership.

However, this is where I spot a problem. There are some dentists who for what ever reason have higher indemnity costs. Whilst it always seems unclear why this is (as there is no apparent transparency in the fee structure when applied to an individual member), it is not unreasonable to consider that there might be an increased risk identified by the indemnifier. So they are basically saying there may be claims likely to be made against this person in the future. I have no problem with that in principle, but the issue comes when this person then leaves the society because the costs of indemnity have risen so high it is fundamentally unaffordable for them to keep paying.

What happens then? The costs of these future claims will be potentially met by the rest of the members who are maybe NOT doing the same sort of high risk dentistry as the member who has left. One can argue that this is a socially responsible and indeed professional manner in which a wronged patient can claim recompense. The problem occurs when there are more of the lower risk members paying for the expenses of the higher risk. Add into this situation that the societies offer ‘discretionary cover’, meaning that your claim only has the right to be considered by the society (and not actually guaranteed to be supported), then some people feel that they are paying an increasing amount of money for less than guaranteed and continued support in their time of need.

It seems to me that many of the members of the traditional membership societies are becoming increasingly worried about the inexorable rise in costs, and the discretionary nature of the support offered. I am aware of much conversation about the pros and cons of moving between the societies, and I’m also aware of the increase in membership of the Insurance based companies as a result of the concerns about this. One of the advantages of insurance based cover is the presence of a written contract, and the ability to make a complaint to the Insurance Ombudsman, which doesn’t exist with the discretionary membership. In addition, the insurance companies are also heavily regulated by the likes of the Financial Services Authority; the traditional indemnifiers however seem to have no regulator at all. The counter to this argument is that with discretionary cover the traditional indemnifiers can cover those who are not indeed members at the time of a claim, and for the benefit of the profession. I can recall this publically happening at some point in the past, and if I am not mistaken it was a human rights issue that became clarified as a result. However, just how many times has the discretionary cover been used in that manner, and not just to refuse cover?

The way I see it, we will reach a tipping point if something is not done soon to clarify more robustly the stance of the traditional indemnifiers, especially where their discretionary powers are concerned. I want to know that I have the support of the indemnifier in assisting me in my time of need, and not that at some point they decide to pull the plug due to a disagreement or just because it is easier and cheaper to settle (despite it being morally, ethically, and clinically wrong to do so). Does writing a blog of this nature give them grounds to refuse cover? Your guess is as good as mine since there is no real published criteria to know where you actually stand.

I can see there becoming a tipping point at some time in the future where all the good clients of the protection societies are no longer willing to put up with the uncertainty and the lack of transparency about the decisions made about any individuals’ costs and especially the discretionary element of support. These clients will leave, and since it is a requirement to have appropriate indemnity, there will be no shortage of new style companies happy to disrupt the market place and offer an alternative.

For example, what if the indemnifier needed a million pounds to cover its expenses and it had 10,000 clients? The cost per client is obviously £100 per client. But what if this indemnifier then starts to haemorrhage clients until it only has 1000? The cost per client is then £1000. These remaining clients are not necessarily going to be the high risk ones either, as it’s probably the case that those higher risk clients will have changed society much sooner in order to keep their costs down.

This is probably a gross oversimplification, and I’d actually welcome someone putting me right over this, especially from any of the defence societies. However, fundamentally what I see is an ever increasing demand on the resources of these societies, with a potentially decreasing number of members footing the bill, and those members not actually knowing if they will be fully supported by the society due to the discretionary nature of the membership. This is a prime situation for a tipping point to occur that changes significantly the whole model this operates under. This might be practitioners leaving, or it might be a re-evaluation of the business model to take things into account. However it is not something that can remain the unchanged as it appears to me unsustainable in the long term.

Before anyone says this couldn’t happen as the societies are so big and have so many customers, all I have to remind you of is Kodak not identifying the digital camera revolution, Encyclopaedia Britannica not recognising the  threat of the internet, and finally the inexorable rise of Uber in its disruption of how we utilise taxis.

All indemnifiers are also reliant on the need for legal cases to continue. By this I mean there is a symbiotic relationship between the defence and prosecution of dental cases, as without one side the other cant really exist the in the same way. Once a case is begun, then costs accumulate on both sides, and the legal profession feeds from this accordingly. These adversarial sides become dependent on one another, and in particular the defence side of negligence does not necessarily work under a no-win, no-fee basis in my experience and gets paid regardless of winning or losing (by our indemnifiers). Cynically, one would say it is therefore in the financial interests of those in the legal profession to have the current highly litigious situation in dentistry to continue, because there appears to be no shortage of work for them. The practice of dentistry becomes the raison d’etre for the existence of both the societies and those legal firms feeding it until we do something to stop it.

There may be protests from the indemnifiers of the tome of this blog; certainly I have taken no account of some of the truly awful issues that result in harm befalling patients by some practitioners. I am definitely of the opinion that we as a profession most certainly still need to put our house in order, and there is probably no room within it for some of the practices that some of our colleagues routinely feel are acceptable. However, unless you are part of the solution, then you are actually part of the problem, and I feel that there should be much more clarity evident in the world of indemnity, so that the profession can practice with the confidence that our patients need us to have when caring from them.

Otherwise, what’s the point in us continuing to serve our patients? That may well create a further tipping point…..of no one in the profession left to care.

Image credit - Guiseppe Milo under CC licence - not modified.

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd, 2017
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13
Dec
0
Posted by on in Simon Thackeray

Another New Year rolls towards us with still nothing particularly concrete planned regarding the new new new NHS Dental Contract. Ok, so there are prototypes running, but there doesn't seem to be any actual date that will see the beginning of a brave new world where all things NHS Dentistry will be rosy once again.

Prototypes seems to be the new buzz word rather than pilots, but unlike a pilot flying a new course, a prototype seems to be something cobbled together that might just possibly fly, but then again might not. The British are pioneers at making prototypes actually fly, but usually in the aeronautical sense. For this to happen it involves a degree of advance planning on the drawing boards, before making models, testing them in a wind tunnel, before finally making a version that might actually fly. There are some occasions where a test pilot has taken the front seat in a prototype only to have met a swift end when something has not quite been right with the design. At least the engineers then can go back to the drawing board and hopefully redesign a problem out of the next version.

But this is where the analogy with the NHS prototypes ends. Instead of learning from the mistakes and problems with the prototypes and design out the problem, the DoH apparently just ignore the data they don't like and carry on with the data they do like. All still fuelled by the ubiquitous UDA. Going back to the analogy, this would be like the designing a solar powered plane expected to fly at 600mph where the wings fall off at 500mph and you can only fly it at night. But since it looks really really good and the Government like it, you can get loads of people on board, so they'll order them. Anyhow, if it crashes, the Government will always blame pilot error. 

People working in the prototypes seem to have varying experiences; those in the blend A models (having a capitation for all band 1 treatments and claiming band 2 and 3's)  are reporting more issues than those in the Blend B (Both band 1 and 2 as capitation and band 3 to be claimed). But what is being reported generally is that access is going to go down with these new ways of working, whilst it is increasing difficult to keep the capitation numbers to target. Access is the only mantra the DoH have, and whilst they pay lip service to quality outcomes, you can rest assured that the only bit of quality they will be interested in will be how much they can claw back when the quality outcomes can't be met. Some of those in the prototypes don't even know how the quality aspect is being calculated as there don't seem to be figure made available (particularly to associates). Given that this is 10% of the contract value, not having the information on what you are being measured on seems to be a significant problem to me.

Having an entirely capitation based system (which will be what the BDA will try for) is better for practitioners ONLY when you have a government that isn't obsessed with output and not interested in the actual quality. By expecting the practitioners to provide the quality as part of their obligations ethically to their patients, and regulated by the GDC, the DoH can quite happily still place the blame at the door of the individual performers on any contract. Its win-win for them still. Anyone who thinks any new contract will be a dental utopia should probably consider leaving the profession now. Almost all commentators say that there is already little enough time to provide the output expected to meet UDA targets; the new system seems even more geared to allowing practices to struggle to hit the new targets. Even successful prototype practices are struggling with the capitation element, as they need many ore new patients to ensure the targets are boing met, but with no space to treat these often high needs patients until 2 or more months down the line, one must wonder how these increase targets are going to benefit good patient care in the brave new world.

Here is now data that shows the amount of principals in practice is reducing, with the increase in associates being proportional to that. However the change is quite extreme, with something like 83% of dentists now working as associates. This will be the norm in the future in my opinion, as with a downward pressure on the income of dentists generally it will become more and more difficult for associates to begin to invest in a practice of their own. I can see parallels with the optical and legal industries here, and incomes of £30,000 for associates becoming routine. Not only that, with the change in the way the new contract may be calculated, and the 'UBER' ruling recently about when self employed might not actually be self employed, then I can foresee a time in the near future when associates become true employees, with the associated increase in liability the employer then has (national insurances, sick pay etc) to cover reducing the wage structure still further. I am also aware of practices who have had to make members of the team redundant, such as therapists as they cannot make the system work for them due to the economics and logistics that seem to be inherent. Still, that's not going to be the DoH's fault is it? Just the dentists who don't run their practice the way the DoH want them to.

Don't get me wrong though; there will still be some highly entrepreneurial dentists out there who will continue to make a very good income from the NHS, but they will be at the head of larger practices or mini-corporates, and backed either by the fortunes made in this system, family money, or outside investors who can see the business model working. There is nothing actually wrong with this either, because fundamentally dentistry is going to be a service industry in the same way as a mobile phone company is, and you don't see all the employees in that industry getting the same salary as the chief executive. It becomes almost irrelevant that many of the 'fee earners' in dentistry are highly educated individuals supported by a well trained team; dentistry is just another 'widget' producing industry for investors to make a profit out of at some point.

One of the reasons that the profitability of corporate practices has been lower has to be due to the income proportions taken by associates. I have no issue personally with what associates earn, but the days of 50% are long gone in this new world, and probably 35% is more realistic for the future. Many law firms expect their fee earners to generate at least 3 to 4 times their salary in order to justify their continued employment. Only in this way will the corporates become as profitable as they need to be to survive long term, and they know this. Coupled with an increased difficulty in earning the udas if the new contract is like the prototypes, with quality frameworks and increased access, then a downward pressure on the highest cost base that can be influenced is certain. In any dental business of a certain size with associates, then I would be pretty sure that the highest 2 costs will be associate wages and staff wages. Only by controlling this aspect, and in an even harsher manner than previously, will the profitability that is needed for continued business survival start to be produced. How fast this will then follow in the smaller practices which have proportionally higher cost bases due to the lack of bulk buying powers is an academic argument.

To finally top this, the BDA  released a press release in the last week indicating just how poor the morale is within the profession. Although this has been known by the profession since at least the time Sheffield United last won a football trophy, they have now decided to let the public know the blindingly obvious. Once again the BDA's public condemnation of a system has been about as vocal as a mute mouse with a sore throat. It should be front page news that half of the UK's NHS dentists are thinking of leaving the NHS, but I haven't seen it in the papers today, but if it does appear it will be spun against us. I was informed (as I was writing this piece) that the BDA are now threatening legal action against NHS England for the patient charge revenue deductions made due to their interpretation of the 2 month rule. But will they get the spin right when they tell the public? Or will the Daily Mail run the 'Greedy Dentists Sue Cash Strapped NHS for more money' headlines because we haven't got a good PR image? At least the BDA are starting to do something positive, but the message has to be managed to our benefit.

So it remains to actually be seen just what might happen in the brave new world of NHS dentistry. Is morale going to improve, or will the DoH continue the beating of the profession until it does? Will there be more time for the quality that our profession is expected to provide? Will there be the correct funding for a First World service?

 Sadly, I think we all know the answers to those questions if we are honest with ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd 2016
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