If you haven’t got a system in place for adequately dealing with patients when the practice is closed, you’ll have much more to deal with than disgruntled patients...
A case that came before a dental tribunal involved a dentist who was working as a long-term locum for a single-handed practice in a town over 240 kilometres from where he lived. He worked at the practice on Mondays and Tuesdays, and then on Thursday afternoons and Fridays, staying at a local ‘bed and breakfast’ on Monday and Thursday nights only. The rest of the week he spent at his home with his family.
A number of patients complained that to all intents and purposes there had been no effective emergency arrangements at weekends or from Tuesday evenings through to Thursday afternoons. There was no answering and messaging facility on the practice telephone, which was only ‘staffed’ when the practice was open. The dentist offered no mobile phone number.
The dentist was found guilty of serious professional misconduct for his failure to provide emergency cover for his patients (among other findings of fact found proven against him). The relevant guidance previously issued to dentists had stated: ‘A dentist working in any branch of dentistry must make appropriate arrangements to ensure that patients, for whom responsibility has been accepted, have access to emergency treatment outside of normal working hours and that such arrangements are made known to these patients.’
When first working in a new area, whatever the legal jurisdiction, it is important to be familiar with both the local laws and regulatory body guidance. This would include a familiarity with what is locally considered to be appropriate for the provision of emergency ‘out of hours’ cover.