Language is important

...especially when attempting to engage with those who have become disillusioned

16 August, 2021 / editorial
 Will Peakin  

According to Tom Ferris, Scotland’s Chief Dental Officer, “there are a number of practices that are currently operating below 20% activity, some below 10% and, unfortunately, we also have evidence of no claims activity”. In a letter sent to NHS registered practices at the end of June, the CDO warned: “In the absence of clear mitigating circumstances, this is completely unacceptable to Ministers.” Practices operating at less than 20% of pre-COVID levels will be contacted by their NHS Board, he said. Practices with no claims’ activity were being contacted “with immediate effect”. “The aim,” explained the CDO, “is to identify barriers and where necessary introduce improvement action plans, which may be specific to each practice with the aim being to grow practice activity levels beyond the 20% threshold, as the first step.”

In response, one practitioner told Scottish Dental: “The majority of practices are doing the best they can under the circumstances. With Scotland having the highest infection rates in Europe, practices are being really challenged as staff are contacted by Test and Protect and asked to self-isolate for 10 days.” The practitioner added: “There is a lot of activity in practice which does not generate a fee, for which codes are being submitted but which the Scottish Government seem to ignore.” Currently, examination of someone under the age of 18 does not generate a fee and would not be recorded as activity with the measurement that the Government is employing. A practice could be fully occupied for the rest of the year seeing thousands of children for a routine check-up, but that activity would not be counted.

A study1 published in January this year, compared the levels of psychological distress in UK dentists before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey also gave respondents the opportunity to comment on how the pandemic has affected them and how they believe it will affect future practice. What emerges from these personal testimonies is an overwhelming sense of frustration. Colleagues describe themselves as “completely disillusioned”, feeling “traumatised” and even being “totally indifferent about the future of [their] career in dentistry”. There is deep dissatisfaction expressed towards those who are leading the profession with respondents often feeling undervalued and under supported. However, many dentists described the time away from the profession, afforded by the pandemic, as beneficial. More time with family, indulging in hobbies and “stepping off the treadmill” were all cited as positive changes brought about by the national lockdown.

In a letter2 to the British Dental Journal, Anne Devlin, a DCT3 in OMFS with NHS Lothian, writes: “Might we find some seeds of hope amidst these findings? Surely, the abrupt intrusion of COVID-19 has shaken the practice of dentistry in the UK like never before. How many of us have gained new perspective on life and work? As the engine of our profession shudders into action and gathers pace once more, how many of us will be prepared to sacrifice our newfound freedom and mental wellbeing? It seems that the national lockdown has given us all something we sorely needed – time. Time to relax, reflect and recharge. Surely now, we have the insight and motivation required to push for reform so that together with our colleagues, we may not merely function but thrive in our chosen profession.”

Eloquently put but, I would argue that in the face of leadership that appears to rely on the language of a public school house master, it is perhaps slightly optimistic.

Also, in this issue, we feature Jamie Kerr, a life coach from Glasgow who was moved to create a wellbeing platform after witnessing the struggles men in his hometown were having with their mental health. Cheekily, we asked whether he’d be willing to help England prepare for a penalty shoot-out at the World Cup. In good spirit, he said that as a Scot it would be a case of “mind over matter” but that he would be honoured. He also had wise words for the young men who missed at the Euros: “Do not focus on past moments that will not serve your future … we must reconnect with the present and plan, as the longer you live in the focus of what went wrong, the longer it takes you to live in a way that could go right next time.”

1Psychological distress and the perceived impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK dentists during a national lockdown. Br Dent J 2021; 230: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-020-2592-5.

2 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41415-021-2815-4

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