It's a common misconception that dental receptionists are obstacles to securing appointments, but they are just doing their job amid Lincolnshire's growing challenge in finding NHS spots for new patients.
Dental access for adults and children without an NHS dentist is a problem in Lincolnshire, meaning some are having to go private or not be registered with a practice. This means as well as taking their normal phone calls, dental practices are also being asked ‘are you taking on NHS patients?’
Husband and wife team Manu Cherian and Smitha Mathew own the NHS Kordel House Dental Practice in Horncastle, as well as the independent Lincoln Dental & Implant Studio. Their NHS practice has around 1,000 child patients, with around 200 kids seen privately in Lincoln.
Dealing with phone calls is just one part of a very busy role for a dental receptionist. Photo: The Lincolnite
Kat Behan has worked in both practices as a receptionist and dental nurse, for over 20 years in Horncastle and in Lincoln since it opened two years ago.
She said: “I enjoy my job and helping people and want to help as many as I can.
“The difficulties for reception staff in an NHS practice is to accommodate everyone on a daily basis. There’s only so much we can do.
“It’s constant with people wanting to know if we are taking on new patients or wanting emergency appointments daily, and regular patients needing an appointment, but there aren’t enough hours in the working day to see everyone.
Kat Behan has worked as a receptionist and dental nurse for over 20 years in Horncastle and in Lincoln. Photo: The Lincolnite
“People seem to think we are perceived as the barrier, but at the end of the day we are only doing our job.
“I’ve been doing the job a long time and those opinions (of people being critical) don’t bother me any more. I’m doing my job to the best of my ability.”
The phone can be ringing constantly and receptionists also have to deal with patients in person and a whole host of other tasks.
Kat Behan is a dental receptionist and nurse at both Kordel Dental Practice in Horncastle and Lincoln Dental & Implant Studio. Photo: The Lincolnite
When asked if the public understands just how much goes into the job of a dental receptionist, she added: “Probably not. They think I’m just picking up the phone all day, but we do so much more.
“At times we have an unfair reputation, but we’re just trying to do our job.”
Claire O’Hanrahan has been a dental receptionist for eight years, including just over six months at Lincoln Dental & Implant Studio.
“I enjoy meeting people and seeing their end goal, and helping them with their treatment journey,” she said. “It is a lot more relaxed and a different environment working here in a private practice.
“The challenges are trying to keep everyone happy and doing six jobs at once. I have lists, and manage my time well, and am supported by my work colleagues.
“Obviously you want to help as much as you can and triage patients, and if it is an emergency see where we can fit them in.
“We can’t always accommodate everyone’s needs, but genuinely we can get most people in.”
Like her colleague, Claire also doesn’t think people really understand what goes into their role.
“They think I’m just typing away answering the phone, but we have re-arranging and cancelling appointments, dealing with lab work, referrals, treatment plans, and new queries every day.”
Dr Manu Cherian and Dr Smitha Mathew provide a continuity of care for their patients at Lincoln Dental & Implant Studio. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite
Smitha Mathew, co-owner of both the Horncastle and Lincoln practices, said: “From my point of view, receptionists are the most important part of the team.
“They take all the abuse, especially in NHS practices, and they do a lot more work than people realise.”
As someone who previously worked as a dental receptionist for four years, I agree with the above sentiments that people don’t realise just how much goes into a role.
The pressure of emergency appointments, how the appointment diary really does fill up quickly, and how some people view you as a barrier can be difficult, but it is part of the job.