New dental practice, new plans

Craig Walsh explains how a plan provider can help with a new dental practiceMatt Hadman talks to new dental practice owner, Craig Walsh, about moving plan provider and future-proofing his business.

As a new dental practice owner, Craig Walsh focuses on investing in his new business to ensure future growth.

In line with that, within months of taking over Buxton Dental, Craig decided he needed to change the existing membership plan provider.

As a small, family practice, Craig wanted to work with a company with a similar ethos. So he chose Practice Plan as his new provider. Craig also wanted more support, the chance to build his own brand and better value for money.

Here, he talks to Matt Hadman about taking over an established practice as a new owner, his experience of moving plan provider, and preparing for the future of NHS contract reform.

It will soon be your second anniversary as a new dental practice owner. How have the past two years been?

Craig Walsh: It’s been absolutely brilliant – the best decision I ever made. You make a lot less money than an associate that’s doing well, especially for the first few years, but I’m investing in the future. I have total control in terms of clinical treatment planning and policies, and I have a fantastic team. It’s just magic having your own place.

In those first two years you’ve implemented some changes, one of which was moving plan provider. Can you talk me through that decision?

Craig: When I took over the new dental practice, I contacted the incumbent provider to ask for some support on a system that was new to me, and it just wasn’t there. As a new owner who had just taken over a list of several hundred patients, I expected more than that. Day-to-day contact and support were very lacking.

I also wasn’t keen on their ethos; it didn’t feel particularly fair or transparent. In fact, after bringing in Practice Plan, we asked patients how they felt about their previous plan. They always say they felt it was too expensive and they didn’t get value for money – particularly if they didn’t need much treatment.

Did you have any concerns over changing provider?

Craig: Definitely – mainly around the impact it may have financially. We had a stable list of patients bringing in a stable income every month, which you can use to plan ahead. Our main concern was that any change could present a risk of losing patients, worrying patients and affecting our cash flow.

How did you overcome those fears?

Craig: I started looking at other providers and one of the first people I spoke to was Michelle Hardy, sales support manager from Practice Plan. She came to my house and we started talking about what my plan was for the future of the new dental practice and how I wanted to achieve it.

The trust, reassurance and rapport were just there straight away; she was brilliant. So, I brought into Michelle and, therefore, the ethos of Practice Plan and the way it views and approaches things. I liked the fact it was smaller, more close-knit and less corporate – exactly like our new dental practice.

Then, over time, we met you Matt, and really liked the fact that you had experience in a successful dental practice. You’ve become a great support to the whole team; you’re very prompt at getting back to us and a real asset. Practice Plan feels like an extension of our team rather than a separate entity.

Thank you very much! How did you find the process of moving providers?

Craig: The transfer was brilliant. We had almost all of our patients moved over to the new plan within six months. The key was having a super slick team and preparation. I spoke to the patients first and reassured them, and after that we made sure letters and follow-up calls were managed quickly and properly – it was easy. We knew we might have questions and extra phone calls, so we prepared by having extra staff manning the phones.

The plan is completely aligned with our ethos of providing the best possible care, at the best possible price. This simple fact made it a smooth transition. My view is that we should be reducing our patients’ risk every year and trying to make them healthier.

We were all confident we were doing the best thing for the patients and the new dental practice and, therefore, the conversations and transition were easy.

In the long term a lot of our patients will save money by transitioning onto a new plan.

We could also explain that alongside the standard plans we offer, should they need something more bespoke we could draw it up there and then for them. This was a real plus for patients.

How are you finding things now you have made the move?

Craig: It’s been great. We’ve made cost savings on the plan, which we’re focusing on reinvesting into the business.

Although the numbers are always super important, it’s the people helping you grow your business that is the key. That’s the most important bit, and that has its own value. I’ve got a really nice team at Practice Plan who I can call on should I need them.

I’ve also had help with our rebrand, previous plans were provider branded. I created a logo, but Practice Plan’s in-house team created the literature for patients. From meetings we’d had, Michelle and Matt knew exactly the kind of messages I wanted to get across, which made it really simple.

What are your plans for the future, particularly in terms of your NHS contract?

Craig: We want to be the beacon for dental excellence within our geographic area. We are a small practice, and we don’t plan on trying to expand quickly. We want to make sure that what we’re doing is as good as it can possibly be, and organically grow from there.

In terms of the NHS, with continual changes with the contract we never know where the land lies from one year to the next. The costs and the fees to patients are going up every year, and it’s getting to the stage where, when you look at the numbers, it’s not affordable for the new dental practice long term.

We want to put plans in place before we reach breaking point. We’ll always strive to deliver the NHS contract and look after as many patients as we can. But the difficulty is that we don’t know what to expect with reform.

We need to make sure the new dental practice is in a place where it won’t damage the business if the changes become detrimental to delivering that contract and we lose it. We’ll be working hard over the next few years to make sure that doesn’t happen.

If you’re looking for more from your provider, call 01691 684 165 or visit

Published first in Dentistry magazine. If you are interested in signing up to receive Dentistry magazine, visit

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