Five tips for a smooth summer

Sarah Ide gives five easy tips to follow through the summer months.

The summer months can bring different challenges from the rest of the year, with higher numbers of staff on leave, patients visiting from other countries or local patients returning from their own holidays. With this in mind, here are some tips that should help you get through the summer smoothly.

1. Countersigning a passport application form

Many dental professionals have acted as counter-signatories for their patients on passport applications. This can attract a fee payable by the patient. However, the UK passport office requires that dental professionals who act as counter-signatories must have known the applicant for two years and can recognise the applicant easily from their photo, and not just be someone who knows the applicant professionally. The counter-signatory cannot be related by birth or marriage to the applicant, must have a British or Irish passport and will be required to put their passport number on the applicant’s form.

It is a criminal offence to make a false declaration on a passport application, and any conviction would need to be declared to the GDC, resulting in possible risk to a dental professional’s registration.

Find out more by searching ‘countersigning passport occupations’ at the govermnent’s website,

2. Patients who have had treatment overseas

It’s not unusual for patients to have treatment abroad either because they have needed urgent treatment while on holiday or they may have travelled abroad as a ‘dental tourist’ to undergo planned treatment.

Regardless of whether previous care has been provided in or outside the UK, the DDU advises that you assess any new patient, explaining your findings in language and terms the patient can understand.

With a patient’s consent, you may wish to contact their previous dentist or dental care professional if you need more details or clarification about care provided and to request copies of the records.

However, this can present problems if the patient needs urgent treatment or if the treatment, material or techniques used are unfamiliar to you or if the records are in a different language.

Your advice to a patient, including options for treatment, should be based on what you consider to be in their best interests. Options may include referring to an appropriate colleague in primary or secondary care, if you consider this would be in the patient’s best interests, or if you consider any aspect of the patient’s care to be outside your scope of practice or competence. While you must clearly explain and document your clinical findings you should be circumspect in any comments you make, as you are unlikely to have the full picture about the circumstances surrounding previous treatment.

If the patient does raise concerns about previous care, advise them that these should be directed to the dental professional who provided that care. The DDU has further advice on its website:

3. Temporary patients

Depending on the location of your practice, you may find you have an influx of temporary patients in the summer months. This can bring challenges including the fact that you will not have access to their dental records, so careful assessment and record keeping is essential.

You should have a low threshold for contacting a patient’s own dental practice for further information, with the patient’s consent. You should also advise the patient of any follow-up treatment required by their own dental practice and consider providing a copy of your records if it would assist the patient’s own dentist with the ongoing care. This may be particularly helpful where emergency treatment has been provided.

4. Good Samaritan acts

You could be called on to provide help in an emergency while you are off duty or on holiday. Although there is no legal obligation to do so, in keeping with the GDC’s standards to act with integrity and maintain public trust in the profession, you should offer help in an emergency if you feel competent and able to do so. Of course, if there is someone more qualified to help at the scene, it may be sensible to step back.

The DDU provides worldwide medical indemnity for Good Samaritan acts to all its members, but thankfully the risk to dental professionals of receiving a complaint or being sued after they have helped in an emergency is very low.

Additionally, the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015 helps to protect those acting in an emergency in England and Wales from legal action.

5. Ensure proper cover and handover when you go on holiday

You have a professional obligation to ensure that your patients are appropriately cared for when you are not available, such as when on annual leave. Although the current GDC Standards do not have specific advice on this issue, the GDC states that dental professionals should ‘Communicate clearly and effectively with other team members and colleagues in the interests of patients’. Share all relevant information with colleagues involved in their patient’s care when going off duty, or delegating care.

You must also be satisfied, particularly where for example implants or orthodontics are being provided, that the person providing care has the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience to provide safe care for your patients.

You should therefore check that any locums you employ are appropriately qualified, and that they receive a handover and induction so that they can work effectively.

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