Couple who filled Orkney’s persistent dental gap take bold next step
Published: 05 December 2019
A HUSBAND and wife who transformed dental care in Orkney by launching its only NHS surgery after a gap of almost 15 years have now agreed a partnership with Scotland’s most exciting dental group.
Islanders could only get NHS dental treatment within the hospital dental service until Orkney Dental was launched by Scott and Amy Tulloch. The 30-strong team across three practices now provide dental care to around three quarters of the Orkney population.
The couple, who live in Stromness with their two young sons, say teaming up with Clyde Munro dental group will guarantee excellent dental care in Orkney for decades to come.
Amy, 34, said: “We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved. When we arrived home the only NHS Dental Care available in Orkney was through the hospital Dental service. The majority of people could not really get anything other than emergency treatment.
“However, we never wanted this to be about us. From the very outset, we were clear this would be called Orkney Dental because we still want it to be here serving the community in 50 or 100 years.
“That is what we want our legacy to be and we are certain that working with Clyde Munro will safeguard dentistry on Orkney for decades to come.”
Jim Hall, the founder of Clyde Munro, which now comprises more than 30 practices with 160 associates and employing over 320 staff and treating over 270,000 patients across Scotland, said: “This is brilliant news all round – for the Tullochs and the team at Orkney Dental, for NHS patients in Orkney and for Clyde Munro.
“Everything we do is about delivering the best possible dental care to patients wherever they are in Scotland, so we are absolutely thrilled that we now have a first foothold in one of the country’s island communities.
“What Scott and Amy have achieved in Orkney is incredible, transforming NHS dental provision beyond recognition. Now we look forward to working with them to further support the NHS strategy for rural locations.”
Stromness-born Scott, 37, met Amy, from Dumfries-shire, while she was working as a locum in Kirkwall. The two young dentists then travelled extensively, including working for almost two years for a major dental group in New Zealand.
However, they were determined to live and work in Orkney, which had been blighted by a lack of any general dental practices offering NHS treatments. The problem had also vexed NHS Orkney, and the Tullochs are full of praise for the support they have received from the health board.
The couple conducted extensive research on how to make a success of a business in a remote or rural location. For several years they, along with practice manager Alli Kemp, regularly put in 14-hour days turning research into reality.
Scott, said: “We looked at the models which had worked elsewhere and how we could apply them here. The main rules for success are finding people who are from rural places or want to live in them, engaging with those people early in their careers, then giving them a career pathway and progression.
“If you can get all of those things right, then it tends to work well. We’ve developed really important mentoring and vocational training. We have had four vocational trainee dentists and they have all been hugely successful.”
Three of those vocational trainees are still with Orkney Dental, while the fourth moved home to work in Shetland. Orkney Dental has also enabled two dentists to make the move from hospital service into local practice, while another Orcadian dentist, formerly working in Glasgow, has been able to achieve his ambition of moving home, where previously there were no jobs.
Amy added: “We have got members of the team from all over the island – that means everyone in the island feels invested in the practice. They are not just patients, they actually know the nurses, the receptionist or someone who works here.”
When the Tullochs launched Orkney Dental in 2014, islanders were finally able to enjoy easy access to high-quality NHS dental treatment for the first time in almost 15 years.
Scott said: “The crux of it is that we feel invested in the community. I’m from here. It was always an eminently fixable problem – but we happened to be the people with the energy, means and enthusiasm to take it on. Doing something from scratch is never easy, especially in a remote location.”
However, Amy admitted: “I don’t think we realised the enormity of what we were taking on. The logistical challenges are huge. Getting dental chairs and other equipment here was a major challenge and we had to train up the majority of our nurses and all of our other staff from scratch.
“What we wanted – our mission statement I suppose you could call it – was for patients in Orkney to have access to the same type and level of services that you might expect in Edinburgh or Glasgow. We wanted parity and we believe that is what we have achieved.”
As well as general dentistry, the two NHS practices in Kirkwall and Stromness are supported by a third referral practice which offers orthodontics, complex root canal work, implants and other complex or cosmetic treatments. While the couple admits the business has grown bigger and faster than they anticipated, they are still looking to do more – hence the partnership with Clyde Munro.
Scott said: “This has taken six years and now we are looking at what happens next. At the beginning, everything depended on Amy and me. It was always our intention that this should be a sustainable practice that is much more than just the two of us.
“While we were in New Zealand, we worked for a bigger group and it was extremely positive. Bigger groups bring lots of benefits, like much better continuity and the ability to weather change. In looking for a partner in terms of manpower, administration, logistics, training and supply chain, Clyde Munro was easily our first choice.
“The biggest factor for us is that they are completely focused on Scotland and want to be known as the specialist running Scottish dental practices, wherever that is – from the big cities to the remote or rural locations.”
The Tullochs will remain a vital part of Orkney Dental with more time to focus on developing services and mentoring young professionals. They will also be able to spend more time with their sons William, three and one-year-old Max and pursue their interests outside of work.
Amy said: “As part of Clyde Munro our role will be to drive continued clinical excellence. It will absolutely be business as usual the only changes our patients will see will be positive ones.
“We will both be able to get more involved in clinical work and do more training to offer more services. That way our patients can know we will always be offering the best and most up-to-date treatment.”
Clyde Munro is an entirely Scottish-based and Scottish-focused dental group. Since being founded by Jim Hall in 2015 it has enjoyed rapid growth and now comprises more than 30 practices across the country.
Its ambition is to become Scotland’s “local dentist”, operating an expanding network of family dentists across Scotland, with each devoted to providing the best dental care, while reflecting the needs and character of its community.
With further expansion planned, local practices retain the names and identities they have built over many years while enjoying the benefits of being part of a bigger group.