Ian Eslick talks to Jason Smithson on what the focus is for the newly formed British Association of Private Dentistry (BAPD) moving forward, alongside what the organisation’s achieved so far…
Established during the most uncertain and turbulent period of COVID-19, the BAPD’s goal was to provide a voice for the unheard voices of private dentistry in the face of practice closures during lockdown.
Having overcome the initial struggles it was formed to tackle, I spoke to Jason Smithson, President and Chair of the Communications Committee, to find out what was next for the organisation.
Ian: What pushed you to start the BAPD during the middle of COVID-19?
Jason: The bottom line is that we should have set the BAPD up somewhere between five and ten years ago to address the issues that private practices have faced.
Talking from experience as a practising dentist myself, the time constraints of working within a busy practice setting meant none of the committee had the opportunity to start it any earlier. This is sad to admit but true.
The perfect storm created by the pandemic gave us that opportunity as we weren’t able to work during lockdown. It also became obvious that none of the main stakeholders making decisions on behalf of the dental industry during that period were looking out for the needs or interests of private practice. It was for that reason the BAPD was set up.
Ian: What was the main issue that emerged as a result of the pandemic that you were looking to address with the organisation?
Jason: The main problem for us was patient oriented. While it could be argued that private practices were not closed during lockdown, I feel that we were for all intents and purposes, as we were only able to offer phone advice. We couldn’t physically open our practices and see patients in pain, in person.
My view is that dentistry is a sector where you can’t help patients, particularly patients in pain, remotely.
As private practitioners, we were left in a position where we had to rely on our NHS colleagues to see our own patients who were experiencing dental emergencies in urgent dental care centres (UDCs). There were issues with that particular process, particularly around communication and referring patients to these centres.
Quite simply, it was a nightmare.
Ian: That sounds like a difficult position for private practices, how did your patients fare?
Jason: The reason why a lot of patients go to private practices is because they want to elect out of NHS care for what they perceive to be a higher level of care under private. Mixed or private practices found themselves in a situation whereby they were having to refer their private patients who were in dental pain to an NHS practitioner – even those patients who were on a plan.
I have no criticism of the UDCs, and they did a good job under the circumstances, however, they seemed to be very overwhelmed. I found this to be particularly the case in Cornwall, where I’m based, with patients who weren’t registered, and we were compounding the issue by sending registered patients to them as well.
That, mixed with problems such as fallow time, stopped these UDCs from working at full capacity.
Ian: Is this when the BAPD began to form?
Jason: Yes, the frustration of not being able to practise privately when the system was clearly being overwhelmed back in April drove me to start discussions on social media. There we found likeminded people and we started to form the BAPD.
Since then, the BAPD has developed into an official organisation and has been accepted as a stakeholder with all of the major decision makers in the UK. We now have relationships with the GDC, the CQC and even with the office of the CDO.
The BAPD has moved on from a reactive protest group on social media, to an organisation with political influence that has a seat at the table where the decisions are made on behalf of the profession.
Ian: What’s the focus for the BAPD now?
Jason: The organisation has matured and we’re now looking at dentistry as a whole. Our focus at this point of the pandemic has moved to the quality of dentistry. In particular, the quality of dentistry that’s being carried out in this country compared to other countries.
The other area that has potential for development is the level of regulation and working in partnership with other organisations, such as the CQC and GDC. We want to be able to improve this area, in terms of removing unnecessary difficulties and promoting quality dental care.
That’s not to say we want to reduce or remove regulation of dentistry; I strongly believe that it’s important we are regulated as an industry.
We’re also looking to grow our voice as the representative for the private sector and grow our members within the organisation. There is a fee to becoming a member, but for us, it’s not about making money, it’s about being taken seriously in political circles. This can only happen if you have paid membership, in other words, members with ‘skin in the game’. Social media groups simply won’t be listened to. The money raised from the membership is utilised for political lobbying, to be less heavily regulated and to improve the quality of dentistry in the UK.
Ian: The membership for the BAPD seems to have grown exponentially since April, what do you think is the appeal you hold for the private profession?
Jason: We’re very inclusive; anyone who practises privately, including those who are transitioning from NHS to private, are welcome. We also don’t exclude people because they aren’t one hundred percent private.
The organisation’s members are formed of a wide range of backgrounds, who haven’t necessarily worked together before – it’s a ‘coming together’ of the profession.
Ian: What do you feel is the organisation’s greatest achievement to date?
Jason: One of the main achievements was getting private dentists back to work. I accept people may argue this, but I feel the sustained pressure from the BAPD really helped achieve the 6th June reopening date. Prior to that, 31st of July seemed to be the more likely scenario.
Getting back to work two months early saved a lot of private practices that were on the brink of going under.
Ian: Is there anything you think the profession may want to think about moving forwards?
Jason: For me, it would be to consider a slightly different perspective of the NHS.
Currently, I would say most dentists would put themselves in the ‘private dentist’ or ‘NHS dentist’ categories. Really, all I would consider the NHS to be is a vehicle for payment, much like Practice Plan, rather than its own type of dentistry.
We should be thinking of practice provision in two ways: as a private, pay-as-you-go patient service, or provision by means of payment vehicles such as finance, Practice Plan or the NHS.
I think because of its history, we think of the NHS as having more significance than it actually does.
Thank you, Jason, there’s some food for thought on your final words. We look forward to the BAPD’s future in its support of private practice.
Jason Smithson is the President and Chairman of the Communications Committee for the BAPD.
Ian Eslick is a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan Group, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans. He has been with the Practice Plan Group for 20 years and has 24 plus years’ experience in dentistry including five years in practice. Through this regular column, he offers YOU the chance to ask any questions you may have about dentistry and running a practice today. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with your question alongside your job title and location, and let us do the rest!