The quote, "A week is a long time in politics" has been attributed to former prime minister Harold Wilson, and there can be no doubt that during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, a week was certainly a long time in dentistry. The profession was deluged with alerts, guidance and protocols from commissioners and regulators across the four UK nations and had to deal with an ever-changing set of challenges.
Call and email volumes to the DDU from members seeking advice and support went through the roof, but even though the whole DDU operation had rapidly moved to a homeworking basis, we were able to maintain the very high levels of service that our members quite rightly expect of us. By way of example, 99% of advice line calls were put through to a dento-legal adviser within 20 seconds.
The immediate and long-term financial impact of the shutdown on dental professionals and practices, particularly our colleagues in private and mixed practice, was manifest. As a not-for-profit members' organisation, we used our flexibility to put in place immediate measures to ameliorate the financial situation by offering bespoke solutions to meet our members' altered needs, including immediate subscription refunds and reductions.
Thankfully, there has been some progress towards normality. This has been reflected in the DDU postbag, which increasingly consists of requests for assistance with patient complaints and claims - some of which are, of course, pandemic related in that they flow from issues such as treatment delays and access to urgent care.
Perhaps an indicator of a gradual return to normality has been the reappearance of debate and comment around indemnity issues in social media channels, which shows that despite all that has been written on the subject in recent years, there remains a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about the various options available. This was also apparent when I was chatting with a group of DCT trainees recently.
A variety of options now exist and it can be difficult for dental professionals to choose. Of late, much has been made of the 'certainty' of insurance products, and at first sight they may appear attractive as they are often cheaper at the outset. However, unlike (for example) travel insurance, it can be many years down the track before one needs to rely upon the policy.
DDU membership is, of course, about so much more than just access to indemnity.
This issue is perhaps exemplified by the fact that the Financial Conduct Authority has recently been investigating the circumstances surrounding insurers' non-payment of business interruption claims in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. There are, therefore, a variety of questions to ask; how long is the insurance company behind the policy contracted to the provider? If, mid-career, the policy becomes unaffordable or is withdrawn, will run-off cover (to insure past periods of practice) be offered, and at what cost? What does the small print say, what conditions are attached to cover, what is excluded?
The MDU, the DDU's parent, was established in 1885 with the sole purpose of protecting the interests of its members. 134 years later, that remains our position. DDU membership is, of course, about so much more than just access to indemnity. Our team of dento-legal advisers are all experienced dentists and so understand the pressures colleagues are under on a day-to-day basis, and in particular when facing a challenge such as a complaint or claim. Over a recent three year period, we assisted members with well over 99% of requests and our Member Guide sets out clearly what members' can expect from us as we guide, support and defend them.
I very much hope that the return to business as usual will continue apace for you and your practices. And please, never hesitate to contact our team at the DDU if we can help in any way with that process.
Head of the DDU
John Makin BDS PgDL PgCDE FHEA is head of the DDU. He qualified in Manchester in 1983 and has worked as a general dental practitioner in Lancashire and Devon before joining the DDU as a dento-legal adviser. He was involved with foundation training for many years as both a trainer and VT adviser/training programme director with the Manchester and Exeter DFT schemes.
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