One-off chance to research

22 June, 2022 / insider

We need to take stock, take advantage of the data generated and improve ourselves for the future

There must be a joke about ‘opening up’, right?  So here we are, a little over two years and the guidance has finally changed, quite remarkably, at the same time as the financial support measures. Surely another joke…

I’ve spent most of the last two years questioning the methods of managing the pandemic. It’s time to take stock. Reflect on a (hopefully) once in a lifetime event that has affected our profession and lives in a way only wars, famine or previous pandemics have before.  A massive overstatement: on reflection, I don’t think it is.

I think we must be thankful that the young were largely spared: not the typical scenario for infections. The ability of scientists to produce vaccines in record time, and with new technologies, has undoubtedly helped (the first world nations) to reduce harm to levels amounting to bad colds or flu. The global death toll, whilst in the millions, is a fraction of the Spanish Flu pandemic after the First World War when the global population was under two billion.

Now (Putin’s expansion plans aside) we are starting to have a more normal life. Socialising, travel, massive inflation. All the things we were missing? Humans are pack animals. We are social. We need to be in close contact with other people. Unfortunately, there are many who still find it difficult; still afraid about being in the company of others. Many who are ‘out of the way’ of social norms.

It will take time for people to change; many may be permanently affected. Mental health is a huge topic with no funding or services to match and I firmly believe we have all been affected in some way by the loss of our freedoms and the divisiveness created by different management techniques and beliefs of governments.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. In our profession, I get a daily reminder of this. Having worked in the one place for a couple of decades, my patients are more like family. We know each other, have had kids, bought houses, gone on holidays at the same time.  Not seeing them for so long is odd. But there is a grateful, “it’s good to see you”, “I’m so glad to get everything checked”, “I never thought I’d be glad to come to the dentist”.

People are delighted to be cared for and they now appreciate it’s been taken for granted. The goodwill is high. Patients understand that work and business has been difficult, that waiting times will go up and we’ve a s*** load of work to do. I think this is a testament to our professionalism.

We don’t often get a chance to stop the bus, get off and look around. That’s exactly what has happened. The last two years have been very difficult. The next two will be incredibly busy. There is much hard work ahead to get everything the way it should be. We shouldn’t be afraid of hard work and the general goodwill of our patients is tangible as never before. It will wain as normality becomes normal. Ongoing headlines about NHS waiting times should help prolong our goodwill more than our hospital-based colleagues.

What else? I’ve learned I hate conference calls, Zoom meetings and working on a laptop from home. I need people to be there to have effective communication: this may be how it’s always been, and I just don’t adapt well, but my feeling is it’s so much easier to see the ‘whites of their eyes’. A lifetime of learning soft skills gets blunted when we work from a distance. I truly wish we hadn’t stopped at all. Many won’t feel that way, I don’t think I was at risk and coped with the PPE. It’s hugely affected the last two and several more years of my life to come.

What would I like to learn?  This break in continuity must be an ideal, one-off chance to research.  The most obvious is recall times. PSD have data for years on patterns of treatment. I’d want to look at people who didn’t require treatment (other than an S/P). Let’s say for five years before the pandemic. Then look at the gap in exams. Then the treatment requirements on the other side. I’d suspect, and remember I work in a pretty low SIMD area with high caries and period rates and poor general health, there’s a group of people, probably larger than I think, who could be on annual reviews. If you looked at the previous five years, the levels of treatment could dictate review periods. It could easily be flagged in your PMS if a simple algorithm was applied. Will anyone bother to do this? If the Scottish Government wants to get anything out of this unfortunate turn of events, this is the only time in history we’re going to get this data. 

I’d also want to have a very god look at workforce planning. FOI request about the numbers of dentists retiring in 2022. The number of DCPs actually working compared with before.  Technicians, labs and costs associated with materials and laboratory work. Waiting times for dentists, therapists and hygienists. The number of NHS sessions being worked compared with previous or another FOI about the NHS/Private split of practices in 19/20, 20/21 and 21/22.

This information should not be used as a big stick to hit the profession, but to inform the very near future of training all members of the team. There is going to be growth in this sector, I believe.  The way the Government drives down the multiplier in July will probably tell us how much.  However, we don’t have the person-power to meet it. We didn’t before, we certainly don’t now. We need to take stock, take advantage of the data generated and improve ourselves for the future.

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