Robust through lockdown and beyond
Julian English talks to Oliver Snowden of Dentex about the current situation and how Dentex is preparing for the future.
Recent statements from the British Dental Association state that if lockdown continues beyond June, many private practices will go bankrupt and close. We spoke to Oliver Snowden, head of partnership and acquisition at Dentex about his group’s position during this crisis. Where does Dentex stand regarding lockdown?
Oliver: Lockdown is of course a concern for all dental practices and those in Dentex are no different. The length of the current lockdown and estimated date when practices can reopen is still unknown. However, we are focusing on working closely with all our dental teams. This will ensure practices are ready to see patients as soon as they get the ‘green light’. Dentex is a predominantly private practice operation. Thankfully we are not highly ‘geared’ in terms of debt. We are assessing multiple scenarios to ensure the financial stability of our practices in both the short and long term.
Infection control post lockdown
The Dentex clinical team is led by Rahul Doshi and Pat Langley. Their current focus is to understand what the ‘new normal’ might look like for dentists once practices reopen. What are your plans regarding infection control when practices reopen?
Oliver: I think the good news for dental practices across the UK is that they always adhere to high standards of infection control. At Dentex, we have already created an extensive ‘paper’ on potential new guidelines and protocols. We are sharing this with our practice partners and the wider teams for consideration. Across the group we have such a wealth of knowledge and experience. We are using this time to pool that insight for collective benefit.
When we get back to work it is vital that our patients, our dentists, and our staff can feel assured that rigorous infection control and cross-contamination procedures have been implemented to do all we can to ensure safety for everyone.
Dentex model from day one
This is undoubtedly a very challenging time for clinicians faced with so much uncertainty. For Dentex, it really has shown the merit of their model and the strength of managing practices as part of a community. How does Dentex plan to cope best after the crisis?
Oliver: From day one of lockdown, Dentex set up a communication group with all our partnering principals. This group shares ideas, voices concerns and facilitates collaborative groups who can work together to help each other. The conversations range from sourcing appropriate PPE, to handling telephone emergencies. They often become more light-hearted with chat about holiday destinations or favourite golf courses that will be first visited after lockdown. It is a tough time for dentists. Our partners have found real value in being able to rely on each other as colleagues.
Dentex is also looking globally. We’re scrutinising the work other nations, who continue or reinstate the operations of their dental practices, do. This helps us understand if there are key learnings to adopt. It enables us to develop the support our practices will need when they are able to reopen. Dentex’s approach to this crisis really reflects our unique model. In partnering with practices, we help them through the problem instead of dictating a group-wide approach. All our practices are different and each one is experiencing different challenges and will continue to face unique challenges moving forward. Our approach throughout this crisis has been to listen to our partners, understand their needs and work with them to find solutions.
Challenges for the Dentex practices
What are the challenges for practices in the group?
Oliver: Dentex is predominantly a private group and we have a number of patients in the middle of or just finishing specialist treatments. Although these treatments are unlikely to leave patients in pain or be life-threatening, delay to continued treatment may compromise the work already completed and could have a long-lasting effect on their oral health. That situation is leaving Dentex dentists in a quandary. Although not vital now, if there is more delay, some patient’s conditions mid-treatment may become serious. Of course, our dentists are dealing with these cases by telephone or virtual consultations to monitor and manage an individual’s situation. But they are all keen to get back to what they love most – helping their patients improve their oral health.
It is too early to tell what (if any) long term impact COVID-19 will have on the dental practice sales market. Although we have seen a slowdown in practice sales across the UK during these uncertain times. What is clear from our conversation is that Dentex are still keen to grow. What has the impact been for Dentex?
Oliver: At the time of lockdown, we had several practices in various stages of due diligence. We made the sensible decision to put those completions on hold. That does not mean we are not going close those deals; we are just unable to provide our future partners with a definitive completion date. Work on these acquisitions continues in the background so that we can get the deals as ready as possible for when the practices reopen. Unfortunately, we cannot give any timescales, but we intend to complete these transactions as soon as it is sensible to do so.
If there are any practice owners who are thinking of selling and would like to discuss the Dentex proposition, we are still working behind the scenes, engaging with future partners remotely via video conferencing facilities.
Oliver: The dental market has always been robust. Private dentists during the last financial crisis performed relatively well. The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, but there is a possibility that when NHS practices reopen, they could struggle to deliver UDAs at the same level they used to because of additional infection control measures. Those patients who cannot be seen quickly due to a backlog may wish to consider private treatment. Dentex believes the market is robust, as do our investors who are completely committed to our activities and growth plan. The dental community has historically been quick to embrace new technologies and protocols and I believe that this, more than ever, will be vital when we can reopen our practices.