CDS CIC – Our EO Story


When huge issues arising from the pandemic hit out ability to care for patients, our employee engagement supported by our governance structures was essential to empowering our employees to deliver a series of new processes and solutions, while inducting 150 new employees just as the first lockdown was underway.


Good governance and engagement

When the pandemic struck, routine dental care was suspended for our patients. Despite this, we wanted to do everything we possibly could to offer some degree of support and care even while we could not see them face to face. Like every other organisation, we were faced with the challenge of shifting an entire clinical and corporate workforce to remote working overnight, bringing a whole host of IT and other infrastructure challenges.  For CDS, the strength of employee ownership lies in empowering our employees to take responsibility for decisions and encouraging resilience, so employees establish solutions that work for them and their teams.

The problems we faced were huge; all our usual business processes were interrupted, colleagues were dispersed and there was not yet clear national guidance around how dentistry could operate safely.

We quickly recognised that the way to respond to all these challenges was around keeping together as a unified team of employee owners, each taking responsibility for what needed to be done; stepping up as individuals and supporting ourselves as a team through some difficult, uncertain days.

Good engagement and effective governance were key and as employee owners we worked quickly to develop operating procedures to keep patients and employees safe; a new IT infrastructure to enable remote working and triaging of patients while keeping patient data safe and clear, as well as unambiguous messages and prioritising whole company communication through daily company-wide briefings.

A whole new section on the intranet for the latest guidance and for our own and national standard operating procedures was updated daily, along with Line Manager FAQs. All this was designed to achieve consistency of approach and engagement across our 500 strong workforce of employee owners, spread across eight counties. It should also be noted that we inducted two new services and 150 new employees remotely just at the start of the pandemic on 1st April!

Our focus was always on trying to provide care for our patients. Quickly, we were able to establish ways of offering what clinical care we could for our patients to help them manage pain and discomfort and signpost those who needed urgent care to A & E.  This required a whole host of IT changes; in just four weeks we successfully established a completely new IT infrastructure to support patient triage and consultation by phone or video, hand-in-hand with mobilising remote working for most of our 500 strong workforce.  A secure video conferencing facility was quickly put in place to enable dentists to see and talk to their patients.  CDS requested and was granted access to an NHS Digital approved solution and is one of only a handful of external partners allowed to use the technology, to ensure secure management of patient data. In some clinics, a lack of Wi-Fi presented an issue, so 4G enabled iPads with built in Wi-Fi were rolled out. To enable secure, shared access, CDS worked directly with Apple to develop a business solution similar to that used in classroom applications – the first time this application has been used in a UK business environment.

CDS was at the forefront of working with NHS Commissioners to establish a network of Urgent Dental Care Centres (UDCs) where patients who could not be treated remotely could receive urgent care. For many weeks, the pressure was on to source stocks of PPE, arrange fit testing for FP3 masks and develop operating procedures that would keep our clinical teams and patients safe through those anxious days. To ensure the safety of our employees, CDS undertook risk assessments of all employees on a self-declaration basis, so that individuals who were more vulnerable could be supported, along with support for those employees who were shielding. Before we could open the UDC’s, CDS insisted on the highest levels of PPE for our employees, who took responsibility, used their initiative and were extremely resourceful sourcing PPE from vets, and schools made visors for us. We didn’t take no for an answer tracking down whatever PPE we could. Everyone was fit tested and trained in donning and doffing so we could get up and running quickly. Our teams worked closely across our dispersed geographies, as employee owners, to share equipment, contacts and experience with the result that CDS was able to open some of the first UDCs in the country and begin treating patients referred to us.

Challenges were numerous; providing dental care in full PPE for long shifts, dealing with enhanced cleaning regimes, complex operating procedures and treating Covid positive patients. We worked hard to reassure our patients and ensure they had the best possible experience in spite of all the challenges. The Oral Health Improvement Teams developed new ways of reaching people and communities when face to face training was suspended accelerating our drive to on-line learning, reaching even more communities. As employee owners, we have a strong sense of social purpose and we also reached out where we could help those in greatest need; working with charities and local authorities to support rough sleepers through provision of tooth brushing packs.

Ensuring the mental wellbeing of employees has also been key during this time. Mindful of the challenges our employees faced, be it working with Covid positive patients whilst wearing full PPE for long shifts, or working remotely whilst juggling home schooling around the job; we responded with the introduction of numerous initiatives to support our employee wellbeing.

Despite the last year bringing the biggest of challenges, our deeply embedded culture of employee responsibility and resourcefulness; shared local leadership where teams have autonomy to make decisions; and a strong governance frame work meant decisions could be made at pace and rolled out quickly to enable clinics to open in a way that was safe for patients and employees.

Our employee covid survey found:

  • 91% felt supported by CDS
  • 84% felt their contribution had been valued
  • 97% felt communication routes have worked well
  • 74% have felt able to contribute to decisions being made
  • 91% felt supported to perform role adequately and safely
  • 91% feel proud of the way CDS has supported colleagues


Our employees commented:


“CDS has put the safety of employees and patients a priority – fantastic that clinical team views sought and respected. COVID19 calls excellent. Investment in training made teams feel supported.”.


“We were able to contribute to SOPs and COVID calls allowed us to work together across organisation and was fastest way to respond to pandemic. Everybody knows something and could contribute. Zoom and M/Teams made all this possible.”.


“Everyone was able to contribute to procedures.”.


“We have pulled together as a whole team within the region in terms of how we work in clinics. Been able to give ideas/feedback that has been acted upon.”.


“Yes, that’s one of the things I enjoy working for CDS for, and how involved we are at decision level.”.


“I was impressed that although we would be doing an induction to join CDS, you had provided with it on video and documents, we also had the Zoom meetings, which I felt made me feel welcomed and part of the bigger team and picture. thank you.”.


“Teamwork during this time has been brilliant”.


“Communication throughout the pandemic to far has been really good and I feel that I am in touch more with colleagues now then previously.”.



About CDS

Community Dental Services (CDS-CIC) is a 100% employee-owned social enterprise providing community dental services to the NHS and oral health improvement programmes throughout Bedfordshire, Luton, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, Essex, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Norfolk and Waveney.

Our social mission is to Improve Oral Health in Ever More Communities.

2021 sees CDS mark 10 years as an employee-owned social enterprise. The company was officially incorporated on 4th March and began trading on 1st April 2011.
CDS transitioned from the NHS 10 years ago under ‘Right to Provide’, with a clear conviction that being an independent organisation would afford more control over how services were delivered and, ultimately, on the quality care patients received.