In these unprecedented times, we know that many members have questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and we understand the strain this is putting on you, your families and your practices.

In this column back in 2017 I discussed the model of 'situated learning', developed by social anthropologist Jean Lave and educationalist Etienne Wenger. This proposed that learning involved engagement in a 'community of practice', as opposed to the more traditional presumption that learning is better when separate from our day-to-day activities, has a beginning and an end, and involves teaching. I suggested that many of the characteristics described within this concept, such as commitment, shared competence, joint activities, information sharing, assisting colleagues and shared resources, are all evident within dental practice and the profession.

In recent days there has been a torrent of new challenges and guidance for the profession to deal with, including limitations on direct patient contact, an unfamiliar reliance on telephone triage and announcements encouraging dentists and dental care professionals to support the wider NHS, local authority and voluntary sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The community of practice has, in my view, never been more evident or important.

Because the picture has been changing so rapidly - sometimes on a daily basis - it has been important that at any given time, dental professionals have acted in accordance with current guidance from an authoritative source.

Nowadays we tend to look to the internet for the vast majority of our information, but it is important to be aware that opinions on social media channels may not necessarily be rooted in fact, however genuinely and confidently they are expressed. At the time of writing, the BBC even has a regular COVID-19 'reality check' slot on its news channels, dedicated to differentiating between facts and myths.

Hundreds of members have been in touch with us seeking authoritative, factual advice, and in particular for help in understanding the nuances of the rapidly changing guidance and periods of uncertainty. We have been able to reassure them that as we are not an insurance company, we have no small print or exclusions. We would advise our members to carefully consider all of the guidance currently available and make a risk-assessed decision as to how to proceed, but the DDU never seeks to interfere in clinical decisions of members caring for patients, and so however they interpret the guidance, members can confidently look to us for our advice and support.

We know these are worrying times for all healthcare professionals. That's why we are on hand and have the flexibility and expertise to guide and support our members with a wide range of dento-legal issues arising during this exceptional period.

The community of practice has, in my view, never been more evident or important.

New guidance

Our advisers have assisted literally hundreds of members with calls relating to COVID-19 and we are proud to have maintained our service levels - the vast majority of calls being put through to a dento-legal adviser within a matter of seconds.

The central thread running through the vast majority of the calls and emails has been the overriding wish of dental professionals to care for patients and meet their needs. The queries raised have covered a wide range of topics, but themes have emerged that tend to have followed changes in governmental and CDO guidance.

For example, in light of the restrictions on face-to-face patient contact, we have provided advice on essential new working models, such as the telephone triage of both existing and new patients. The guidance we have given to members has been founded upon fundamental core dento-legal and risk management concepts, including record keeping and the management of expectations.

These principles have been considered, adapted and re-invented for extraordinary circumstances, and the advice has included practical tips such as remote access to records systems and even checking that voice-activated 'assistant' apps aren't party to phone consultations conducted remotely from home!

Membership

Our expert membership service advisers have also been working hard to help the hundreds of members who have contacted us about changes to their working circumstances. These members are already benefiting from reduced subscriptions and prompt refunds tailored to their individual circumstances. We also understand the immediate impact of the changes on practice incomes, so depending on what's appropriate we are adjusting or suspending subscriptions with immediate effect. We are not deferring payment of refunds as we know this is important to members.

In summary, we are here to support you, our valued members, in any way that we can during these unprecedented times. Although there are further difficult times ahead, I am sure the profession will emerge with an undiminished determination to continue to serve its patients - precisely because we are a community of practice.

Wishing you, your families and colleagues well during this difficult period.

John L Makin

Head of the DDU


This article was correct at publication on 16/04/2020. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

John Makin

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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