Block buster

Having outgrown a well-loved but cramped practice in Port Glasgow, Belhaven dental surgery’s spacious new home is perfect for patients

31 March, 2015 / featured
 Bruce Oxley  

When Belhaven Dental Surgery opened its doors on William Street, Port Glasgow, in September 2005, such was the demand for NHS dentistry in the Inverclyde town that the queue was literally around the block.

With just principal dentist Catherine Jones, a dental nurse and a receptionist at the practice initially, it quickly became apparent that more pairs of hands would be needed. And, when 900 patients were registered in just the first two days, it wasn’t long before a second dentist was taken on. As the list steadily grew over the years – it is now up to a healthy 8,000-plus – the practice itself expanded to become a four-surgery clinic featuring four dentists, two part-time hygienists and nine support staff.

However, with a small reception and waiting room, a staff room that doubled as the office and the fact that it was never intended for all four surgeries to be operating at the same time, over the years the practice started to feel more and more cramped. On top of this, Catherine had always been keen on a return to vocational training – having mentored a new graduate in 2006 – but with all four surgeries at full capacity, this just wasn’t an option.

It was definitely the right decision to move from William Street but there will be a few tears when it is knocked down

Catherine Jones

Relocation started to look like the only way forward and the problem was only compounded when the council expressed a desire to either sell or redevelop the car park that surrounded the practice building. However, the council knew Catherine was interested in potential properties for relocation so, at the start of 2013, she was approached by Riverside Inverclyde (RI), an urban regeneration company tasked with reinvigorating the 4.5-mile stretch of waterfront at Greenock and Port Glasgow.

RI had bought the former rent office building on Scarlow Street, just 500 yards up the road from Catherine’s practice, and was looking for small businesses and start-ups to take up residency at what would be the new Scarlow House Business Centre. Catherine had a look around and, despite initial reservations over the light, she recognised that the space had great potential and provided an environment to equip the practice in the way she had always wanted. A deal to sell the old practice to RI and lease half of the ground floor in the new business centre on a 40-year lease was thrashed out and work eventually began in April 2014. The William Street practice has been earmarked for demolition in the near future and Catherine admits she will be sad to see it go. She said: “It was definitely the right decision to move from William Street but there will be a few tears when it is knocked down. I’ve got so many happy memories and so do the staff, but it just wasn’t suitable for what we wanted to do.”

Even before she bought her first practice back in 2005, Catherine had started to develop a clear idea of how she wanted to run her own business. After graduating from Glasgow in 1996, she spent the next nine years at an NHS practice in Johnstone, first as a VT and then as an associate.

She came to the decision that, when she went out on her own, she would rather start from scratch and establish a practice in her own style as opposed to buying an existing business with historical systems and procedures in place.

While William Street had previously housed a dental surgery, it had been closed for a few years and was being sold as a going concern rather than an active dental business. This appealed to Catherine in that she could implement her ideas from the start. She said: “I’d always had very clear ideas of how I wanted to do things and the old practice allowed me to do that for the first time. Things like regular staff meetings were essential and I wanted to establish an environment of development so that all the staff have opportunities and are positively encouraged to further their careers and explore areas that interest them.”

On the physical side, Catherine explained that setting up the old practice had been much more challenging than the recent move to Scarlow Street. “William Street, while previously a dental practice, needed to be completed stripped out and updated, which was quite a big job,” she said.

“It was also the first time I had done anything like this, so all the unknowns made it quite stressful. When it came to this latest move, I knew more of what to expect and that made it so much easier.”

Happily, despite the contractors working on Scarlow Street having no direct experience of building or fitting out a dental practice, the development proceeded relatively smoothly. Technical issues around fire doors and the placement of the lift held up work for brief periods but there were no major dramas.

The new practice consists of five surgeries – meaning there is now room for a VT – a separate staff room and staff toilet, reception area that is separated from the main waiting room by a frosted glass partition to allow privacy for patients and a dedicated office behind reception. The obligatory LDU, plant room and storage areas are situated off the main corridor with each surgery clearly marked with a number and the dentist’s name.

Bold colours and eye-catching artwork adorn the walls and Catherine believes that adds to the atmosphere in the practice. She said: “We always try to be bright and cheerful and that is reflected in the colours of the chairs and the cabinets.

“DB Dental, which fitted out the surgeries, sat down with each of the dentists and they all got to choose their own colours for the cabinets and so on.

“I do think it makes a difference and we’ve had no end of patients commenting on the look and feel of the new building. We’re all delighted.”

Three chairs were brought over from the old practice, with Catherine buying two new ambidextrous chairs, one from A-dec and one from Belmont. for two of the surgeries. Ian Wilson of IW Technology Services was drafted in to install all the IT, from digital phone systems to screens in each surgery to view radiographs and for patient education. Ian also installed the Goodteith software that the practice had been using in the old building as well as transferring all their data across to Scarlow Street. A new sensor for the digital X-ray system was also bought from Carestream and a new RO machine was purchased from Eschmann for the new LDU.

The Belhaven staff were hands-on with the move itself, transferring all the sundries and smaller items of equipment and helping to set up the surgeries. The dedicated storerooms – with sundries stocked by Henry Schein Dental – are fitted with codelock doors for security and are organised to allow for optimum stock control.

The new practice opened its doors on 12 January with Catherine, her staff and patients all delighted with their new premises. She said: “Our patients have been fabulous and they have given us some lovely feedback. It has turned out even better than I expected, the look and feel of the place is great and we couldn’t be happier.”

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