Practice owners; new group aims to take the lead
Committee member David Gibb outlines the thinking behind the SDPO’s formation
Like everyone, David Gibb has found it a worrying time for his family, friends – and the future of his practice, Links Lodge in Montrose. “I’m hoping they find a vaccine soon,” he said, “and we can get back to something like the lives we had before.” He does concede that the time away from work has not been without its benefits. “I was probably working too hard before the lockdown and needed to improve my work life balance,” he said.
That, however, has “already gone out the window”. Gibb is now on the committee of the SDPO, the Scottish Dental Practice Owners group, founded by Usman Ullah and fellow practitioners at the onset of the pandemic as practices shutdown. The idea was to support practice owners and share ideas and information. “Membership of the group grew quickly,” said Gibb, “and it became clear that there was an appetite to formalise the group to represent practice owners.”
He added: “I don’t know any dentist who is happy with the status quo, and many of us have felt powerless to address our concerns, over a number of years,” said Gibb. “I think it is important for practice owners to take a leadership role in addressing the problems facing the service. We need to ensure practices remain viable, that dental teams have reasonable working conditions and that patients across Scotland have access to high quality dental care. With the support of Scotland’s practice owners, SDPO can work to achieve these objectives.”
But, in what way are their interests not already being met by existing representative organisations? “We are not aware of another group which specifically represents practice owners, despite this being a key stakeholder group in the dental industry. Practice owners make substantial personal and financial investment into our businesses. We provide the facilities for the majority of dental care, and in many practices the owner or owners also provide the clinical leadership.
“We are employers, we contribute to the Scottish economy and we play a significant role in Scottish public health. We think such a significant stakeholder group, with a collective investment of hundreds of millions of pounds and a key role in healthcare provision and public health across Scotland, should have its own representative body.”
A committee was established in July and the group has been formalised as a limited not-for-profit company. It currently has more than 480 members, comprising practicing owners, non-dental owners, hygiene/therapist owners and dental technician practice owners. Directors and committee members are volunteers. The group has an online presence across various platforms, working groups have been set up, position papers written and a ‘September 20 Manifesto’ published focusing on the challenges faced by NHS service providers.
“We have been writing regularly to the CDO and senior members of Scottish Government about concerns we have with current Scottish Government policies, the effects on patient care and our concerns for the future of NHS GDS,” said Gibb. “We hope to continue to grow the group and consolidate the processes and systems necessary for the smooth running of the organisation. We will continue to highlight the concerns of our members to the CDO, Scottish Government, and local health boards.
“Practice owners currently face multiple challenges, and many are fearful for the future of their practices and NHS GDS. We believe that practice owners should be directly represented in discussions with the CDO and that we are too important a stakeholder to be left out in the cold. We also believe that practice owners would benefit from legal representation. We have already taken legal advice and we intend to fund ongoing legal support through membership fees and crowdfunding campaigns. It seems sensible that such a significant stakeholder should have legal advice and support to protect its interests.”
In what ways did he think that the SDPO group could co-exist with other representative organisations in the profession – particularly the BDA, currently the only representative organisation recognised by the Scottish Government? “The SDPO group has formalised because Scottish practice owners feel they need a group to support and represent them, they need a voice,” said Gibb “We believe there is a clear role for SDPO now and in the future. We hope more practice owners will recognise that there is strength in unity and join SDPO. Practice owners should play a significant role in shaping the profession both now and in the future.”
The SDPO group is not the only new professional dental organisation; both the British Association of Private Dentistry and the Scottish Dental Association were established this year – how can all these organisations co-exist? “We seek only to unite and represent practice owners, whether their practices are NHS, private or mixed,” said Gibb. “We will focus all of our efforts on supporting and representing this important group. In doing so we hope to protect GDS provision across Scotland, including NHS dentistry.
“We are concerned that current Scottish Government policy could result in a significant reduction in access to NHS dentistry in communities across Scotland and that this would be a public health disaster. Other groups with different focus will hopefully all contribute to the betterment of dentistry in Scotland.”