News focus: Dentistry gets mobile and takes to the road
 

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News focus: Dentistry gets mobile and takes to the road

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News focus: Dentistry gets mobile and takes to the road

 

News focus: Dentistry gets mobile and takes to the road

Even the greatest ideas have to start somewhere. And nestling in a pub car park in north Leicester is a prime example – the UK's first mobile dental surgery, run by Dental Xpress.

You and I might think it's an innocuous location, but the stream of patients coming through the doors would disagree. A hit after only a few months, it's proof of the concept's strength; that quality dentistry really can go anywhere.

The four-chair mobile unit has been parked up since the end of last year, providing NHS dental treatment to the people of Syston and the local area. Access has long been a problem here, so its success is perhaps no surprise. The unit is the only one of its kind at the moment, but this will change if more PCTs come on board.

Movable it may be, yet it still looks pretty solid to the untrained eye. Amarjit Gill, the company's spokesman and non-executive director, assures me that the ‘mobile' is no lie – all it needs are clear roads and it's good to go. The unit is completely self sufficient; running off its own generator and carting its own distilled water supply around. With enough space (and demand), it can go almost anywhere.

Inside, the unit does exactly what it says on the tin, with an economical approach that doesn't skimp on the essentials. It squeezes in four well kitted-out surgeries, a decontamination area, reception, and a staff room. Doctor Who would be proud.

Crucially, it's clean, professional – and even welcoming. It's proved to be something of a revelation for the local population, who have turned up in droves since the local press covered its official opening in January.

Vipul Modi, one of the dentists working at the unit, is quick to echo this. ‘A lot of our patients haven't seen an NHS dentist for years, so they're really grateful that we're here. The impact we've had has been huge; it's very fulfilling.'

In fact, the hardest part is telling the patients the unit won't be around forever – at the moment, Dental Xpress' contract (a standard, if temporary GDS) with Leicester County and Rutland PCT is due to run out at the end of this month.

Success in Leicester will hopefully lead on to bigger and better things with more PCTs.

Untapped potential
While it's still early days for the business and its wandering units, the potential that this approach could have is clear.

Amarjit explains: ‘PCTs can have a problem translating need into demand – it's difficult to justify spending half a million pounds on a new, bricks-and-mortar clinic when you have no guarantee that patients will access it.

‘Dental Xpress can go in and assess the level of demand without that initial outlay.'
The logic is hard to argue with, but it doesn't end there. He's genuinely enthusiastic about the unit's potential in a wider healthcare role, too.

‘We could be providing all sorts of wider medical screening,' he says. ‘Put us in a community that doesn't access good healthcare and we can do diabetes clinics, obesity clinics, smoking cessation – all kinds of things.

‘We've got four surgeries; we could take out the stuff you don't need and make one or two of them more medical. The unit is beautiful, but it's very expensive. The thing is, it has a more or less fixed overhead so that way you'd be using it to its full potential. The cost of delivering further services would be incremental, so everybody wins.

‘We would love to get involved with a PCT that shares this sort of vision.'

Eureka
Of course, these are long-term plans. For the foreseeable future, the company is concentrating on improving access, which – fittingly enough – is where it all started.

It's the brainchild of CEO Toby Cobb, a man with no dental background to speak of. What he does have, though, is business experience and an eye for an opportunity – that, and a sense of civic responsibility.

Having struggled to find a dentist in his area for some time, the sight of a blood donor van on his way to work sparked off a ‘eureka moment'. He wasted no time contacting Vanguard (the company responsible for building the units), and progress was soon underway.

Toby is candid about his expertise (‘I leave the finance to the finance experts and the dentistry to the dental experts!') but as a businessman first and foremost, is always looking to realise the potential of the company.

‘We originally wanted to reduce the access problem,' he says. ‘But there are other problems in dentistry that this could potentially help alleviate too, so hopefully more opportunities will present themselves.'

Community service
Dental Xpress is a business, but it's a refreshingly altruistic one. It's classed as a ‘social enterprise', which essentially means that around 75% of its profits are put back into the business. At the same time, it is driven by more admirable social objectives than the mere pursuit of cash.

‘We felt like we were doing this for the right reasons,' agrees Toby. ‘We aren't doing it to line our pockets; we want to give something back to the community.'

The clinic employs local dentists, nurses and staff, and it's evident that despite only being around a short time, the effect on the local area has been huge. It's doing well on the business front too, so it's no wonder that Toby is ‘extremely pleased' with his first foray into the dental world.

If the first four months of mobile dentistry are anything to go by, the future is looking extremely bright.


 Posted on : Thu 4th - Mar - 2010

 

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