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Regulating the effects of COVID-19

14 June 2021

By Dr Louise Eggleton, Dentolegal Consultant          

A single-handed dentist was forced to close her dental clinic on two occasions during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the first occasion, the dentist was unable to source some items of essential personal protective equipment for aerosol generating procedures. This resulted in the suspension of appointments for many types of clinical interventions and the dentist was only able to offer a telephone triage service, during which patients were given clinical advice and prescriptions for antibiotics when appropriate, or referral to another clinic if necessary. 

The second unavoidable closure arose after the dentist had contact with a family member who had tested positive for COVID-19. The dentist was forced to self-isolate for the recommended period of time in accordance with government guidelines. Unfortunately, a suitable locum dentist could not be found to cover the treatment appointments at such short notice. Patients were therefore contacted to reschedule or were offered emergency appointments at a nearby dentist who had agreed to provide additional support to the practice.  

Most patients were very understanding of the dentist’s position. However, one patient, who had also been affected by the first closure of the practice, was unhappy because their follow up appointment had to be rearranged. As the patient was experiencing discomfort, he accepted an alternative emergency appointment at a nearby practice. The patient was advised their tooth was unrestorable and required extraction. The extraction procedure was completed uneventfully, but the patient immediately went to complain to the Dental Council, alleging the six-week delay in treatment by the first dentist had caused the loss of his tooth.

The dentist was understandably shocked and upset when she received notification of the Dental Council complaint. She immediately contacted Dental Protection for advice and guidance and we assisted her in preparing an explanation to the Dental Council. It was explained that both situations were beyond the dentist’s control and could not have been predicted. The response stated that her actions were reasonable and proportionate and that she had acted in a highly responsible and professional manner by observing the local government and dental association guidelines during that time. 

After consideration, the Dental Council accepted the dentist’s explanation and the case was closed with no further action. The dentist, who had been under a considerable amount of stress while trying to manage her single-handed dental clinic and from the Dental Council investigation, was unsurprisingly very relieved to have the matter resolved. 

Following further discussions with her case manager at Dental Protection, and taking into account the extreme stress and pressure of the situation, the dentist accepted the offer of confidential counselling services. Access to these services was available free of charge as part of the dentist’s membership benefits. The dentist went on to receive additional guidance and support following this difficult period.

Learning points

  • Patient perceptions of events do not always reflect the true picture. It is important to spend a little time explaining the reasons why their appointments and treatment may be delayed. We suggest that the clinical record includes details of these conversations.

  • Dental Protection recognises the significant additional pressures many dentists are facing during the pandemic and how changes to the way we deliver care will have an impact on patient perception. We understand dentists continue to try their best to provide a good level of service to patients during this time, while adhering to the guidance set by local government and dental associations. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to predict how a patient may react to events that can often be outside the dentist’s control.

  • Contact Dental Protection at the earliest opportunity to ensure we can help support and guide you through any complaints, claims or regulatory challenges that which may have been triggered by the additional pressure of providing dental care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • You are not alone – Dental Protection understands the serious pressures dental professionals have faced during this time. We are able to offer confidential counselling services by independent professional providers at no additional cost, as part of your membership benefits. Please contact us for more information.

These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits Dental Protection members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
For more detailed advice on any issues, contact us