Opportunities in dentistry – the current conversations

opportunitiesReflecting on 2020, Paul Harris shares a number of discussions that may resonate with those in the dental industry.

As we entered 2021 and our third national lockdown, the dental industry breathed a collective sigh of relief when the government confirmed that dental practices would remain open following on from what can only be described as gross mismanagement during the first lockdown period.

Government guidance finally acknowledged dental services as ‘essential’. The sector as a whole is looking a lot more optimistic than it did six months ago. Dental practice stakeholders are starting to finally plan for the future.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve had a whole range of enquiries here at Goodman Grant. I thought it would be useful to share some of these. The discussions that we’ve had may reflect the general feeling of the dental industry. Therefore they might resonate with a number of you reading this.

Associates – looking for certainty in uncertain times

The majority of associate dentists, particularly those who carry out purely private work, fell through the proverbial crack during the first lockdown. The government left them feeling abandoned.

Understandably, that’s left a strong feeling of vulnerability. Coupling that with time spent at home to reflect during practice closures, there has been a strong sense that practice ownership would give them back a sense of control with them becoming masters of their own destiny… albeit with the appreciation of the financial risks.

Some associates have mentioned that practice ownership has always been in the pipeline but the pandemic has focused minds, fast-tracking this from a thought process to action.

We’ve seen associate buy-outs, associate buy-ins, joint ventures. To be honest we saw a general increase in interest in the market.

NHS contract transfers

We’ve been instructed on a higher than usual number of NHS contract relocation transfers. Whether that be as an unfortunate result of an NHS practice owner shutting up shop or larger NHS practices swallowing up smaller NHS contracts within their local area.

I would point out that the process is not just a case of emailing your area team and requesting the transfer and then getting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I’ve seen the following requests from area teams across the country:

  • Full details of the proposed location and distance between the current site and the proposed site
  • An outline of the benefits to existing patients of the proposed location (services, opening hours, facilities, staff)
  • Detailed patient survey information to fully understand the patients’ views. How the change might affect them, what are their views on the change. Whether patients are happy to travel to the new location and how might patients travel to the new location
  • How the acquiring practice would manage any displaced patients that would not wish to or could not access the new premises.

NHS contract reviews

More often than not, NHS contracts entered in to for the provision of dental services are signed, completed and then left to gather dust.

However, of late, we have had a variety of requests to dust off the cobwebs. To provide a report on the terms.

The requests have ranged from reporting on the ability to transfer NHS contracts held in limited companies to reviewing the service level agreements for the newly-created urgent dental care (UDC). It really has been a mixed bag.

Sometimes there’s no other reason for having us carry out these reviews other than just wanting certainty that the document that they perhaps didn’t decide to get legal advice on 10/15 years ago was fit for purpose. Again, it goes back to people wanting to regain a sense of control.

NHS pensions/24-hour retirement

There have been a large number of people who have wanted to discuss the NHS 24-hour retirement process. This, unfortunately, seems to have been triggered by the loss of close friends, family or colleagues from COVID-19 and/or the need for additional funds to improve cash flow at their practice.

It is always surprising to hear how many dentists who carry out NHS treatment are not aware this process exists.

Dental practice owners – time to get out

‘Fed up!’ That’s the general feedback I have been getting from practice owners enquiring about the sale process. Excessive regulatory measures, personal protective equipment costs, lengthy surgery fallow time, HR headaches and the general uncertainty around NHS dentistry.

These are some reasons why many practice owners I have spoken to are looking to leave the dentistry industry. The pandemic has brought forward plans to sell up in five/10 years.

One of the few positives that has come out of the circumstances has been the opportunity for people to connect or reconnect (albeit through Zoom or Facetime), something practice owners have acknowledged that they have missed out on because of the demanding nature of running a dental practice.

Hopefully, reading this provides reassurance that there are others within the dental industry thinking along the same lines as you. It may even push you in to acting on something that you have had on the back burner for some time.

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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