Lessons from lockdown – this isn’t normal

24 August, 2020 / indepth

At times, the path out feels more like trying to escape from a maze

As businesses continue to reopen, how many of us had those overdue hairdresser and barber visits, taken tentative steps back to restaurants and bars to catch up with friends (socially distanced of course?) We keep being reminded that this is the ‘new normal’. Well, I personally can’t stand the phrase. Life hasn’t returned to normality, not by a long shot. There are still many businesses who do not have permission to open and of course, dentistry remains immensely challenging whether you are an NHS, mixed or private practice.

The path out of lockdown hasn’t been clear and at times it feels more like trying to escape from a maze. Everyone has their own opinion on whether it’s being done too quickly or too slowly; why some businesses have been allowed to open and others not and dentistry has been no different. Practices are navigating out of lockdown in stages, based on the Scottish Government road map, without any real clear guidance on who regulates who.

The resumption of dental care has brought about new ways of working, enhanced PPE, a different patient journey. Not only have we had to train our teams on these changes, but we’ve also had to communicate these changes to patients. The latter has perhaps been one of the biggest challenges when it was announced on national media that practices will be reopening before practices were told. Patients don’t understand that we still have restrictions on how we work; perhaps the biggest being fallow time at the end of an AGE (aerosol generating exposure).

How we manage AGE appointments is perhaps the biggest challenge facing teams and requires an input from clinical and non-clinical teams to ensure days run smoothly. We all know by now the requirement for enhanced PPE currently for these types of appointments and many of our clinical colleagues are finding it challenging and uncomfortable to wear especially as it’s been getting warmer. With fallow time currently sitting at 60 minutes, this is challenging unless you have multiple surgeries that clinicians can move between, but needs careful scheduling.

For this reason, I think it’s important that the non-clinical team are involved in training and are given support about what constitutes an AGE appointment and what doesn’t and of course this should form part of the practice’s documented Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). We also need to consider training of the team in all these new processes and procedures and of course the fit testing required for the FFP masks or respirators while maintaining social distancing in the practice. This may be the form of online training on Teams or Zoom or bringing people back in to practice in small groups.

The choice of PPE is very important, we’ve now all seen the many videos that practices have put online to show our patients what the clinical environment and our teams will look like – which is fantastic. However, for practices who have chosen to wear reusable respirator style masks, there needs to be consideration of how this will look for anxious patients or indeed our younger patients. Are we building a new cohort of anxious adults in the future and discouraging anxious patients from accessing dental care? While from a cost and sustainability point of view there is logic, I’m not a fan and I think that it suggests dental practices are a very dangerous place for our patients to be.

What have I learned from lockdown? I’ve learned how much I missed human interaction and how important the physical senses are to my wellbeing. I’m the first to admit that pre-COVID 19, I used to send a message or email more often than actually speaking to someone because life was busy, and we always seemed to be on the go. However, take away social life, or going to the gym, and suddenly I’d lost a lot of the physical sense of human interaction. So, I made a conscious effort to actually speak to people on the phone or video call – imagine how much harder the lockdown would have been 20 years ago with super slow dial-up internet and playing snake on a Nokia 3310.

While technology has certainly been instrumental in how we’ve all been able to stay connected with each other especially with social media, I have seen another side of social media that has made me rethink my relationship with it. Social media groups have sprung up during the COVID lockdown that in my opinion can be hugely negative and at times borderline trolling. Where I find myself disagreeing with what people are posting in groups or comments, I find the best thing to do is leave that group. I’ve also turned off the notifications for many of the groups I’m in which means my timeline is only things I want to see. The good and the bad of social media is a topic for another article.

I’ve always thought I’d love to work from home, but it turns out I didn’t enjoy it that much – again that human interaction thing. However, I do miss sitting next to the fridge and snack cupboard now I’m not working at my dining table enjoying the view outside.

Mikey Bateman is business manager at www.fergusandglover.co.uk

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