Dentists are under more pressure and stress than ever before. The latest NHS Confidence Monitor (2018) indicates 70% of dentists are thinking of leaving the NHS by 2022 and 27% intend to leave the profession all together.
The Patient Support team help to alleviate the stresses and bureaucracy that can take dental professionals away from clinical work. As its name suggests the Patient Support team was initially established to offer help and guidance to the four million patients mydentist treat every year. But the support the team offers has evolved to meet the increasing demands placed upon dental professionals too.
The team handles around 1,500 phone calls each month, and for every one of those calls from a patient there are two from a practice.
Victoria Hayes, Patient Support Manager says; “We work closely with all of our practice managers and clinical support teams on a really wide range of issues.
“They ask us for advice on lots of things, from how to handle a patient complaint, or what they should do to manage a difficult situation, through to helping new dentists navigate regulatory issues.
“Sometimes we’re just there to reassure our teams and to let them know they’ve done the right thing and everything will be ok. That may seem like a small thing, but to those who work in frontline dentistry – for them it can mean a great deal.”
Victoria explains Patient Support is there to ease or take away the concerns of dentists and clinical teams and empower them to get on with their main focus – treating patients.
The team has an ‘open door policy’ for anyone who visits the Support Centre. They also deliver training courses on topics like understanding the patient complaints process.
Victoria says; “Most dentists don’t have the luxury of being able to pick up the phone and ask for help and guidance. In fact, most independent dentists are forced to handle all the challenges they face on their own. And that can contribute to low morale in dentistry and the danger people will leave the industry completely.
“Being part of mydentist means getting the right support when you need it.”
The time dentists can spend on clinical work is decreasing markedly year-on-year due to red tape distractions, increased regulatory and administrative responsibilities. A decade ago, dentists in England and Wales spent more than 85 per cent of their time treating patients. Last year, it was just 77 per cent.
And it’s an issue that’s mirrored across Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scottish dentists have seen a drop from 86.1 per cent in 2008/2009 to 78.8 per cent in 2017/2018 and Northern Ireland has seen a drop from 85.5 per cent to 77.5 per cent.
Victoria says: “We want dentists to spend as much of their time as possible with our patients. Which is why as well as handling 1,500 inbound calls each month we also make 1,000 calls to dentists, reply to 500 emails and open 200 letters sent in the post.”
The team also work with contract managers and the NHS to make sure that practices are fulfilling their contracts, manage Ombudsman contact and support on compliance issues, including supporting practices ahead of inspections. They are involved in legal claims, handling requests from the regulator as well as taking an active role with advocacy groups such as Health Watch.
And the team also responds to patient comments left on social media and keeps the practice pages up to date on NHS Choices, including responding to practice reviews. The list of responsibilities of the Patient Support team is seemingly never ending. A list which further highlights just how many additional responsibilities most dentists without this support face alone. And it works for patients as well as dentists.
Last year 94 per cent of patients said they would recommend mydentist if a loved one needed care, whilst the number of clinicians leaving the business has fallen to its lowest level in three years.
“I’m proud of what we achieve in Patient Support. We must be doing something right with those figures,” says Victoria.