How will we judge pandemic dentistry?

shut dental practice during COVID pandemicJohn Makin hopes for a legacy of understanding and respect once the memories of 2020 have faded.

As we look back on a tumultuous and disruptive year for dental professionals and their patients, it’s tempting to look at how 2020 will be remembered in future years.

I, for one, hope we will look back with admiration and renewed respect for the way our profession and healthcare practitioners as a whole have dealt with this crisis. A crisis that none of us could envisage coming.

We have seen that sentiment among our own patients who have often had to wait patiently for treatment. And also with the tremendous support shown by the public. Raising millions for NHS charities and clapping for carers.

Context is everything 

Of course, claims and complaints may come in many years after memories of the pandemic fade.

At the DDU, we are already seeing the impact of the pandemic in the number of complaints we support our members with. 

All too often we see dental professionals become embroiled in the performance process. Often simply because a patient is complaining via healthcare commissioners rather than directly to the practice. 

This is stressful for the colleague concerned, particularly in the current climate. We wish to see these processes decoupled. The focus being on the resolution of the complaint rather than there being a ‘no smoke without fire’ assumption that there must be something more serious worthy of investigation.

When examining incidents, it’s really important we remember the context in which colleagues are currently working. 

This is not a new concept. In a 1954 judgement, Lord Justice Denning said: ‘We must not look at the 1947 incident with 1954 spectacles.’

Back in March this year, the General Dental Council, in a joint statement with other regulators, provided welcome reassurance that regulatory standards are designed to be flexible and recognise the context of the challenging circumstances faced.

As time goes on, I am sure that colleagues would welcome further reaffirmation of this point by the regulator.


There is some sympathy among the public about the difficulties we face.

A Comres survey by our parent company, the MDU, found that 70% of people think doctors, dentists and other NHS staff shouldn’t deal with negligence claims in respect of their work during the pandemic.

We agree and believe there should be immunity for dental professionals from COVID-19 related claims.

Despite the challenges facing us, it’s important to remember that dentistry remains a rewarding and worthy profession. And now with hopes of a vaccine, we of course look forward with guarded optimism to 2021.

I hope you and yours stay safe and well.

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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