The industry looks ahead

The previous weeks and the coming months provide an enforced opportunity to review how organisations structure and conduct their business

15 June, 2020 / indepth
 Edmund Proffitt  

ith conventional high street dentistry closed down for more than two months, the UK’s dental industry has seen a massive and unprecedented drop in activity, matching and reflecting that of our customers and colleagues in the dental profession. The ‘industry’ embraces hundreds of different and diverse businesses from manufacturers, dealers and distributors, to IT services, publishing and market support. But on the whole, with the cessation of all general dental activity, dental sales and support have drastically reduced. This means that the majority of dental companies have had to participate in a number of the Government’s business support schemes. Like many other sectors, most dental companies currently have a significant proportion of staff on furlough.

After the initial shock of the magnitude of the challenge facing dentistry, the BDIA – the voice of the UK’s dental industry – is now wholeheartedly involved in the work going on to facilitate the resumption of more widespread dentistry, mirroring what is described as  “restoration and recovery” in the NHS hospital sector.

As a trade organisation, the Association is conscious of the responsibility it has to its membership to provide information and leadership. Therefore, in addition to how the organisation deals with the critical everyday challenges that COVID-19 throws up for its members, a key driver of activity is: ‘What will your organisation be remembered for?’ The BDIA is aiming to be remembered for providing help and support, direction, and leadership. To that end we have been concentrating on four key activities so far during the crisis.

The pandemic will have many legacies, some tragic and some transformative

Firstly, we continue to work with various government departments and organisations to assist where we can with PPE supply issues and member companies continue to scour the globe to secure supplies going forwards.

Secondly, we have been guiding our members through, and assisting them with, the various government support measures which 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 that members are familiar with the guidance and mechanisms that are impacting on and challenging their customers as well as themselves.

Fourthly, we are firmly focusing on safely getting dentistry going again, and have launched an initiative to look at mitigating the impacts of Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs) as part of the industry’s wider contribution towards the widescale resumption of treatment in the quickest and safest way. 

From an industry perspective, moving forwards many BDIA members will have a critical and fundamental role to play in getting dentistry back in action, with an opportunity to help and shape the way that the profession once again begins to provide more dental care going forwards.

We see the key processes in getting dental activity back on track as being:

  • Reducing infection risks, which will require the adoption of;
  • Appropriate risk-based SOPs, approaches, products and treatments, allowing the;
  • Resumption of dental provision;
  • Inevitable changes to the structure of NHS and private dentistry and its funding.

There are many articles and opinions on how and when dentistry will open up and get back on its feet again: the issue of AGPs, the pace of resumption and what contractual and funding changes will be required to support dentistry in the recovery stages and beyond. The BDIA is heavily involved and committed to the re-opening of practices and the resumption of widespread treatment. However, by way of a change in topic, I would just like to depart from the conventional challenges of re-starting more general dental provision for now and look at a few wider changes in the business picture affecting us all. 

The last several weeks, and indeed the coming months, provide all organisations with an enforced opportunity to review how they structure and conduct their business going forwards. The COVID-19 pandemic will have many legacies, some tragic and some transformative. 

There can be no doubt that it will undoubtedly have a profound impact on how business will be done in future. Here, we look at a few business scenarios and practices familiar across the dental sector to both clinician and the industry.

Firstly, it will come as no surprise that PPE prices will have increased dramatically by the time practices reopen. Everyone will be aware of the intense global competition in the race for PPE, the shortages suffered by the NHS and the massive associated cost inflation. The industry will endeavour to source and supply PPE for the sector, but practices should be aware of the impact of unprecedented global demand on the prices for this invaluable treasure so vital to our everyday work. We would also like to make the profession aware of the enormous volumes of counterfeit and non-complaint face masks and PPE currently offered for sale by unscrupulous vendors, particularly online. We would recommend all practices to only purchase from reputable suppliers.

For many, in the dental industry and beyond, the traditional office environment will change for ever, and certainly there will be changes to the surgery too. In addition to the obvious introduction of distancing and safe procedure until there is a vaccine and/or effective therapies, widespread working from home and a reduction in travel will impact significantly on the way organisations look at cost effectively using and staffing offices and facilities in future. Going forwards, much smaller premises may be appropriate for a number of organisations, with many members of industry teams continuing to work more from home.

Business travel will re-emerge differently. Widespread home working and communications technologies will provide useful data for organisations and individuals on the real benefits and cost effectiveness of those national and global sales meetings, professional gatherings, congresses, and exhibitions. It is likely that full international travel will take some while to get back on its feet, and costs are likely to remain relatively higher for some time to come, so virtual face to face communications look like they may well remain a very big part of all our working lives. Passports will remain in the top drawer a lot more and expenses perhaps more modest.

As we have seen, face-to-face meetings – so long the backbone of so much dental business – could well remain largely virtual in future, at least once any post-virus ecstatic rush to all meet up again in person has lost its novelty. That traditional relationship between dentist and dental sales representatives will surely change. Again, learnings over this period will allow companies to review the best strategies and structures to enable recovery and future growth, as consideration will be given to safely accessing dental premises and to assessing the relative values and benefits of face-to-face versus virtual contacts. 

Another long-established staple of the dental world is the Dental Exhibition and Conference. Going forwards careful consideration will need to be given to any mass gatherings and any government rules adhered to. Organisers have a moral and legal responsibility to do what is safe for exhibitors, visitors and delegates. With the two largest UK venues used for dental exhibitions currently accommodating Nightingale Hospitals, it is difficult to see these being used for other purposes for some time yet. The NHS Louisa Jordan at Glasgow’s SEC could still be used to help deal with the backlog of cancelled procedures.

However, dentistry is a hands-on occupation and traditionally exhibitions have presented a tremendous opportunity to place product in the hands of a potential user. In spite of the already discussed probable permanent move towards online communications, I suspect many of us hope that time will soon come when exhibitions are again safely back on the calendar as an occasional face-to-face alternative to virtual video contact. Organisers can only plan for that future based on best advice from the authorities and venues, and put on a show to tempt us all back out of our online cocoons.

Edmund Proffitt is Chief Executive of the British Dental industry Association (BDIA)

Tags: june2020 / Scottish Dental Magazine

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