‘Dentistry’s been betrayed’: industry speaks out as practices face closure against coronavirus

A poll carried out by the BDA shows more than 70% of private practices report they will not survive for longer than three months in face of coronavirusDental professionals have spoken out as research shows more than 70% of practices report they will only survive for three months or less in the face of coronavirus.

A poll carried out by the British Dental Association (BDA) found that one in five (20.4%) practices say they are at risk of imminent collapse by the end of April.

And a massive 71.5% of practices report they can only survive for three months or less.

Other findings were:

  • Less than one third (28.7%) think they will be in the financial position to restore patient access to pre-pandemic levels
  • 25% of practices have applied for a government interruption loan – but 93.4% were unable to secure backing
  • 46.7% of those who failed have been forced to apply for commercial loans, with interest rates reported to be more than 20%

The organisation is pushing for the full rates relief which is currently being offered to the hospitality and retail sectors to be extended to private practices.

Additionally, it calls for the government to expand and roll out its loan scheme sooner.

As it stands, self-employed associates earning more than £50,000 are not entitled to government support.

BDA chair Mick Armstrong said: ‘Many practices are now weeks from a cliff edge, saddling themselves with debt they may never be able to repay.

‘It was right to suspend all non-urgent care, but without meaningful support the nation’s dental services face decimation, and no practice can be excluded.

‘Dentistry cannot weather this storm when nearly every surgery relies on private care to stay afloat. If officials let these vital services go to the wall the impact will be felt by patients in every community in Britain.’

Christina Chatfield

Christina Chatfield is a dental hygienist and owner of Dental Health Spa in Brighton.

‘I am fighting for my staff and my life. This place is my home – I sold my house to build this business. I now live above the practice.

‘We have around 13,000 walking through our doors in the last 13 years – despite there being NHS practices in the area. We do provide a public service.

‘We’ve been triaging and delivering antibiotics to patients. For some patients, we haven’t been charging them. My dentist took a Hippocratic Oath to care for his patients. There’s currently no urgent dental care centre in this area. The brother of a paediatric nurse I know has been going back and forth and was eventually told to go to A&E. He had come to us crying in pain.

‘I just feel that as a health care service provider, dentistry has been betrayed. The debt I will incur as a result of this will take years and years to pay back. I knew when I started my business that I would have to fight for it. I didn’t think that it would be a pandemic that would lead to its closure.

‘I’m talking closely with my team to keep them motivated. I don’t want them worrying. I feel so much empathy for them – they work so hard and all they’re entitled to is universal credit. One of my self-employed staff members is also married to a self-employed builder – they collectively are eligible for £570 a month.

‘As a hygienist, this is particularly difficult. I also took an A1 property (shops and retail) and converted it to a D1 property (medical or educational purpose) but we were kept on retail rates. The case rate per square foot is £474. This compares to £170 for a dental practice.

‘My saving grace is that I borrowed money to buy a digital scanner. However, I’ve now cancelled this order but kept the loan. We would have gone into our overdraft otherwise and all my staff would have been lost. I’m also going to be cancelling my direct debit to the rates office, which will afford me an extra £2,000 a month to help pay my staff.

‘I drive past other businesses as I head out for my morning swim in the sea. The hairdressing salon, the corner shop – they will all be able to survive. We were just turning a corner. This could destroy it.’

Andrea Ubhi

Dr Andrea Ubhi is a cosmetic dentist and director of Andrea Ubhi Dentistry.

‘Private practices seem to have fallen between the cracks of government help. Yes, we can furlough staff and they can receive 80% of the wages. However, at present, we don’t qualify for the closure grant or council tax rebate. As most dentists earn over £50,000, then we don’t qualify for furlough pay.

‘The government loans are difficult to get, slow, and if the risk is high, word has it that the interest rate after the initial period is crippling. NHS practices seem to have come out winning with up to 90% of their contract still being delivered. However it is unclear if they will need to make up lost UDAs, and the increase in cost of future PPE could be crippling if margins are tight. The viability of NHS practices is still uncertain.

‘As a result, private dentists are earning zero at present. Private practices are going into the red every day with overheads. If we are to save these practices, then they are going to need bailouts, more than is on offer now.

‘As for corporates – the ones who have borrowed heavily and grown quickly without strong financial backing – they will be at high risk of bankruptcy. If a very large corporate was to go bust, then that would lead to enormous surplus of patients and staff. Some corporates could get burned, and those that have strong financial backing could be winners.

‘I see the future two ways. Firstly, some high-risk taking, large-living private practice owners may have recently purchased practices. They will have high debts, perhaps refurbished practices on finance, and high commercial rents with long time left on the lease.

‘Personally, they may also have large residential mortgages, credit card debt, the cost of dependent children, high childcare costs or private school fees, expensive and financed cars, or perhaps divorces to fund.  These guys are in deep, deep financial trouble.  It is difficult to see how they will be able to get their businesses through the coming weeks. It is going to be a tough time, but you know what, they personally are going to be fine. The services of dentists are always in demand.

‘If these companies or vulnerable corporates go bust, then there could be two knock-on effects: a flood of patients looking for dental care, driving the cost of treatments up and an increase in dental clinicians and staff unemployed, driving wages down.

‘Secondly, for those practice owners who are perhaps older, paid their debts off, own their own premises, paid their residential mortgage off, and have no dependents or school fees – and for corporates with significant financial backing – it will still be hard. However, if they can weather the first few months of difficulties, then I see that they will have the opportunity to increase patient numbers, and grow their practices with great clinicians and staff at lower wages, leading eventually to increased profit. And if they have spare cash, they could build their portfolio of practices with rock-bottom practice purchases.’

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