The Changing Face of Locum Dentistry: The Probe

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The Changing Face of Locum Dentistry

In the past, dentistry has offered the flexible working options that some professionals have desired. Many dentists have utilised the opportunity to work on a locum basis, enjoying the myriad of benefits that this offers. Not least of these was the ability to work around family commitments, to earn good money and to experience greater diversity than would be possible as an associate in the same practice day-in, day-out.

The events of 2020 have impacted almost every area of our lives, so it makes sense that those working on a locum basis will have also had challenges. Indeed, many will have faced months without work and without pay – just like their self-employed associate counterparts. However, they don’t have the same long-term contracts with principals to protect them going forward. What this could mean for the future of locum dentistry is still yet to be fully appreciated.

The good and the bad

There are both positive and negative consequences of the pandemic for locum dentists. To start with the bad news, there may be less need for locums in some situations. At time of writing, it is unknown how NHS dental contracts will be affected in the long-run, but the temporary measures implemented by NHS England may leave many practices with no or significantly reduced UDA targets. Many businesses often seek the support of locum dentists when approaching deadlines and/or needing to boost their UDAs – without targets, the need for locums is substantially lower. Dental groups have been keen users of locum dentists in the past, but they may currently have far less need for them. For smaller, independent dental practices, spare surgeries will more likely be used by associates to give them less fallow time.

On the flipside, some practices may wish to bring in a locum dentist in order to boost revenue. This might be an attempt to recoup some of the income lost due to past closures, or it may be required to prevent temporary closures in the future. Maintaining revenue is particularly important for any practices that are on the market or about to be, in order to protect and retain the goodwill value.

This could also be relevant if the principal or an associate is required to isolate after a patient they treated later tests positive for COVID-19. Should this be implemented, even if the dentist wore a mask for the entire appointment, then there will be a lot of dental professionals periodically going into 14-day isolation – much more so than among the general public. The need for locums to cover the deficit could increase considerably.

Changing assignments

The changes locum dentists will likely see are not just split into good and bad. Some things may just be different.

For instance, locum dentists have traditionally covered everything from an unexpected associate departure to staff holidays and prolonged periods of leave like maternity leave. The time they spent with different practices will have therefore varied. Post-COVID-19, more shorter jobs could be expected. If the NHS Test and Trace system is successful and infection rates remain relatively high, locum dentists could be offered a number of 14-day assignments to cover associates who are isolating.

That said, a smaller group of locums could be sought by practices whose principals – a large proportion of whom tend to be older – are vulnerable and therefore fall into the shielding group. If they are unable or unwilling to return to work in the immediate future, this could create an opening for a longer-term locum dentist. For example, this would be a solution for the principal of a single-handed practice who is shielding due to health reasons, as it would enable the practice to open and deliver patient care.

In addition, while there might have traditionally been higher demand for locum dentists in certain areas of the UK, more jobs may come up in different locations over time, offering new opportunities for those working on a locum basis.

The reason that locum dentists are brought into the practice may influence what they are paid. At a time when fallow time between patients is required for all practitioners and hence fewer patients are being seen each day, day rates previously offered to locums will no longer be equitable. However, those who are covering the full patient list in place of the principal may be offered a higher day rate to reflect the increased workload and responsibility.

Only time will tell

We are all subject to events as they unfold in the aftermath of the 2020 pandemic. For locum dentists – just as it is for associates and all other members of the dental team – only time will tell. It may be that more professionals look for permanent roles to protect the future of their careers and gain some peace of mind. It might be that locum work has never been better. Whatever the situation, whether you are looking for work or needing to recruit a locum dentist, Dental Elite can help – just give the experienced team a call for any information or support you need.