It is National Smile Month until 17 June and we are taking the opportunity to shine a light on the important work of our Dental Lead Yasmin Allen and her team of dental nurses at HUC as she tells us how crucial the Out of Hours service is for dental health.

Yasmin joined HUC in 2016 with a wealth of experience in dental public health and emergency dentistry in different organisations and practices. She has always been excited about innovation. “From a dental perspective, you’re mostly aware of clinical dentists working in a practice. But I’ve always been interested in doing different things, and this was a perfect opportunity to branch out into something slightly different and still very relevant to dentistry,” says Yasmin.

Yasmin’s career in dentistry began in 2010 “I started working in a practice followed by a short stint in dental hospitals. I built on my experience in different specialties – I worked in community dental services for a bit and moved on to dental public health for a few years, while working in emergency dentistry in London,” she says. She was also named runner up for the British Dental Editors Forum, Young communicator of the year in 2017, and received a BEM for services to oral health in 2018.

“Working at HUC, I got to learn how NHS 111 works and how we support patients when practices are shut. It helped me improve my own experience and knowledge as well, since I had never worked in Integrated Urgent Care (IUC) before. It’s an area that not many dentists are aware of. And not all NHS 111 or IUC providers include dental nurses, so we’re fortunate to be able to provide additional support and advice. Dentistry stands out because a lot of people say it’s like mental health where you do really need that extra professional support. There’s a lot of extra nuances to dental,” she explains.

The Out of Hours process

Dental nurses at HUC work from 8.30am till 10.30pm on weekdays, and slightly earlier on weekends from 7am. Patients calling NHS 111 with dental problems often cannot access or contact their own dentist or need some other support and advice. Specifically, for these patients, a separate option has been established. The patients are assessed by a call handler via NHS Pathways, a clinical decision support system used by NHS 111 service for remote assessments and assigned to the service’s dental pool, which our dental nurses work from. They contact the patients who are listed and based on the outcome of the original assessment, they may ask more questions for a personal clinical triage based on their clinical skills and expertise.

As our services are commissioned by local CCGs, there are variations in the service offering depending on the region the patient contacts us from. For example, in Hertfordshire and West Essex, we can book an appointment with an emergency dentist if that is clinically required, whereas for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and Luton & Bedfordshire, we signpost the patients to a number of different services available out of hours.

As Dental Lead, Yasmin supports her team of nearly 20 dental nurses. “Especially in the last year during the pandemic, I have been working with particularly vulnerable patients and people who have got complex cases, which the nurses have tried to resolve but exhausted all their options,” she says, adding, “The dental nurses in Out of Hours have much more responsibility than they do in practice as they are individually managing patients here. I ensure they have everything they need to be able to support patients. My role also involves training and professional development for the dental nurses, and other HUC colleagues and team members, making sure there is a wide awareness of dental issues. I’m also involved in the recruitment side of things as well,” she says.

COVID-19 and its impact

Dental practices were shut for three months during the first part of the pandemic which had never happened before. This left both patients and NHS 111 providers with very limited options for dental needs. “The pressure shifted straight to us at 111. Before COVID, we were on approximately 150 dental calls per day on an average and it went to over a 380 in May. Our call volumes increased massively which meant we had to increase the number of shifts, so that we had enough cover from a dental nurse perspective to be able to get through these calls,” Yasmin recalls.

“It was steep learning curve, but the dental nurses did an absolutely amazing job. They all did really well, picked up a lot of shifts and helped in every way adjusting to the rapidly changing situation. Like everyone at HUC, we all pulled together trying to work out how we can access the limited provision which were being set up as during the first part of the pandemic”.

Dental opportunities at HUC

“HUC is a great place for a dental practitioner. You get a lot of experience and it’s challenging, but in a good way. There is career progression and growth, because you get multiple challenging situations thrown at you and that just makes you very efficient in being able to deal with things very quickly. Also, speaking to patients on the phone is completely different from being able to treat people face-to-face. Ensuring you keep people safe is key whilst you can’t physically treat them or see them. Also, you broaden your knowledge of what’s going on in dentistry in the region — you are much more aware of what’s happening and hear the experiences of people So, it’s personally quite rewarding.”

HUC’s responsiveness and flexibility is something Yasmin appreciates. “It’s super flexible. The opportunity to work with loads of different people, not only in dentistry but in healthcare overall is great. Working with other clinical staff and non-clinical staff, you realise the impact and reach of the organisation is so much wider than you can imagine. And also, how much people appreciate dentistry,” she says.