‘Even before Covid, Dragon’s Den would have laughed at dentistry as a proposal’

A Co Down dentist says that the TV show Dragon’s Den would reject the NHS dentistry business model if it was proposed to them in normal times - never during the extreme pressures Covid is now putting on the profession.

Thursday, 26th November 2020, 6:30 am
Updated Friday, 27th November 2020, 11:25 am

Ciara Gallagher is the owner of Mullan Gallagher Dental Care in Downpatrick – which was a thriving business in pre-Covid times. Across the UK, 30 minutes is now required for deep cleaning between patients due to Covid, slashing the number that can be seen by 80%.

The resulting loss of private fees is currently putting 80 NI practices at risk, the British Dental Association (BDA) says, as dentistry is designed to run on both private and NHS income. The situation risks 100,000 NHS patients being left without a dentist, the BDA says.

“Pre-covid my business coach advised me to go fully private and downsize as this would mean an easier life and more income. But I couldn’t,” Ms Gallagher said.

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Ciara Gallagher, owner of Mullan Gallagher Dental Care in Downpatrick, has opened up about the pressures Covid-19 is putting on the dental profession.

“Our practice has over 10,000 NHS patients dependent on us for care, eight dentists and 15 staff who rely on the practice for their incomes.

“I am proud of our practice, I am proud that everyone who wants care can access it regardless of socioeconomic position. But the government has taken advantage of that, they have repeatedly applied minimal uplifts to NHS fees that did not keep up with dental inflation, knowing that dentists would make it work, knowing that we would not fail our patients and our teams.”

Historic underinvestment by the government combined with the pandemic are creating unsustainable financial pressures, she says.

“Funding for NHS patients has been the life raft which has kept practices afloat, but fees from non-NHS clients are required to cover the costs of wages, equipment, materials, rent, rates, utilities, maintenance and cleaning.

“It is not possible to generate enough revenue doing solely NHS dentistry to cover running costs. If you took it to Dragons Den, they would just laugh at it. So why do we do it?... to care for the patients in our communities - who are at this stage friends.”

She adds: “Dentists have a reputation as being rich fat-cats who can take the pressure, but this simply isn’t true. And the earlier in their career and the more NHS-focussed their practice, the less lucrative and more stressful it is.”

Financial support to cover the loss of private patients would be helpful, along with business rates holidays, and help with staff costs, she says.

“The Minister for Health has asked the Minister for the Economy to support private dentists but nothing has been forthcoming so far.”

A dentist in full PPE gear during the coronavirus pandemic. They report that enhanced PPE such as this is exhausting to wear as it is so restrictive on breathing.

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