Regulating dental groups – Same but different? – Eddie Coyle Association of Dental Groups

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  Posted by: Dental Design      4th October 2018

With a group of practices, it’s perfectly natural to assume that standards should be better when compared to a single practice operating alone. Therefore, I think the bar is set slightly higher for groups and corporates than independent practices.

Part of the reason of this is that groups are deemed to have the additional support afforded by a network of management professionals and access to subject matter experts as part of the larger business structure. The governance of such a business would therefore likely insist on high quality standards, with specific systems and processes being adapted and adhered to throughout the various locations. I also think there is an undercurrent perception that as larger organisations, groups have greater resources to allocate to implementing and monitoring these standards.

Realistically, groups set their own standards, which obviously take account of the demands of the regulations and may actually exceed those requirements. They determine what they want to be known for and how they want to be distinguished from others, which is first of all communicated to patients and then to the dental team delivering their care. From here the standards would be communicated to NHS commissioners and then the regulators upon inspections, as well as the wider dental community.

In terms of adopting regulation standards, groups and corporates are likely to be ahead of the curve due to their scope across the UK. We certainly have a lot of experience in working collaboratively with the regulator, particularly as our organisation expands England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Our approach has always been one of collaboration with the governing bodies – we are happy to help identify potential issues and raise them with the relevant regulators in order to help improve the process for all professionals and patients.

Such a relationship should focus on ensuring that the regulators are happy the services being provided and assessed are safe, effective and well led. It’s equally as important to engage with the dental teams on the ground to make sure that this culture is continued and it is not just a textbook exercise. Even more crucially, this collaboration among the profession, groups and regulators should work towards ensuring a degree of clarity across the CQC inspectors in order to dispel any inconsistencies in how an inspection is carried out. The disparities previously encountered with inspections have reduced since the introduction of dental experts, but there is still some work to be done in this area.

In general, a standardised approach by the CQC could also be of benefit when assessing groups and corporates. For example, instead of looking at HR policies at ten different sites, the inspectors could consider the HR policy centrally and then assess the sites to ensure that the protocols are being correctly implemented and are alive in the practice. Not only would this streamline the inspection process, but it would also add value to each site visit. The percentage of practices visited could also be scaled according to the size of the group, focusing on the culture of the business rather than just the policies in place.

Moving forward, I think it’s important to encourage the sharing of best practice. The Association of Dental Groups (ADG) has been open about how we operate and how we address regulation to achieve compliance. It provides a platform for the sharing of knowledge and all members must meet certain standards. It is not about one-upmanship, it’s about using collective knowledge and experience to find better ways of doing things. The same philosophy can be applied in all areas of the profession.

Regulation is there to protect everyone involved in the delivery of dental services, as well as the recipients of the service – it is a vital part of safe and effective care. Operating within a compliant environment should therefore be the number one priority for every dental practice, regardless of its independent or corporate structure. By being open and constructive with each other and with the regulators, we can work together to continue improving the processes involved and ensuring that every practice meets the same high standards. Embracing regulation – even if some aspects are seen as good and others bad – should be the way forward with a collaborative approach to achieving common-sense efficiencies and developments for the future.

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