As businesses across the UK struggle in the face of the coronavirus lockdown, thousands of people have been calling for dental appointments, but how many of the 12,000 plus dental practices will prove able to survive the current financial challenges?
While the safety of the dental team and patients is, of course, paramount, the financial sustainability of practices which have been unable to operate since 23rd March, is also a real concern. With the date of their re-opening still unclear, there are also numerous issues and challenges around resuming routine dental care, many of which will add to the financial burden for practices.
Like many small businesses, dental practices have seen a huge reduction in their revenues in recent months. While the Scottish Government has said that it will pay NHS dental practices 80% of their average income from NHS fees and patient charges, practices will miss out on substantial income from private dentistry which effectively subsidises NHS work.
The British Dental Association (BDA) recently warned that more than two-thirds of Scottish dental practices said they could only survive a maximum of three months due to the financial impact of the pandemic; and, while a quarter of practices had applied for Government support loans, 86% had been turned down.
As practices in Scotland prepare for a phased return to NHS dental services, we echo the BDA’s concern that large parts of our dental service are at risk of imminent collapse. Even after re-opening, they will continue to face tough trading conditions with many people reluctant to resume routine dental care and patients likely to delay check-ups, trips to the hygienist or aesthetic work.
What’s more, with most practices located in fairly small premises, the need to accommodate social distancing measures will add to costs at a time when dentists will be looking to run more efficiently and reduce their overheads. Given the increased risk of transmission during aerosol generating dental procedures, practices will also have to invest in providing PPE for staff.
The key advice in this challenging situation is to seek expert help before financial problems escalate – talk to your accountant or other professional advisers and, working with them, keep a close eye on cash flow.
Although it has become a cliché, these really are unprecedented times and, like any small business, having expert, trusted advice on hand, will be crucial to dental practices remaining viable in such testing circumstances.
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