Simon Thackeray: ‘dentists are leaving in droves and we’re heading for a core service’
Nigel Jones, Practice Plan’s head of sales, caught up with private dentist Simon Thackeray to talk about the current NHS situation, the reasons dentists are leaving in droves, and why he thinks UDA targets could be close to 100% by October.
What has it been like working in recent months with all the procedures and PPE?
Working in dentistry in general at the moment is so difficult because of the PPE we are all having to work in.
In my practice I’ve got a fantastic flow through the surgery of cool fresh air. But I haven’t got a fantastic flow through myself because I’m in a mask. I can’t work out if I’m dribbling or sweating!
Dentists are working in such heat, trying to communicate, trying to talk with patients. This is now happening in an environment that we already know is pretty low risk. People don’t just need a week off from all this, they need a significant break away from it.
What is happening because of the situation is that it is becoming a pressure cooker. Staff are already leaving in droves, and I mean droves. And they will keep leaving.
Team members aren’t saying: ‘Let’s stop and look back and see what happens’. They have decided enough is enough and they are leaving and going and doing other jobs. They don’t want to do this anymore.
We’re at a point where UDA activity levels could potentially change again in a few months’ time. You’re completely private now, but how do you see the situation changing?
The NHS tried to run a target-based system prior to COVID and it wasn’t fit for purpose. Now they’re trying to make it fit for purpose again.
The definition of stupidity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results.
I think they will try to get as close to 100% targets in October as they can. Because they always want to squeeze every last pip out of every single NHS contract.
But the only way people are going to get close to delivering 100% is if PPE comes off.
On a wider note, to make progress moving forwards, there needs to be more money going into the NHS. There isn’t enough put into the pot for a dental service that the 21st century deserves. And I don’t think there ever will be.
I think it is pie in the sky to expect the NHS to suddenly find a whole trench of money for dentistry when the only time it comes on the agenda is when MPs are getting inboxes full of emails, which prove to be a pain for them.
You have talked about a pressure cooker and staff leaving in their droves, do you think we are getting to a critical moment that the NHS will find it difficult to recover from?
Being quite cynical, I think that is what the government has wanted for a long time. They want a situation where it is so difficult to do anything that they can say it was dentists underperforming that stopped NHS dentistry.
You also have the patient side of things; the public are not stupid. They are starting to think about their treatment in a different way. We are seeing that in the demographic of people we’re treating. It has changed a lot as people are deciding they want to spend more money on private dentistry. So that’s another issue the NHS needs to contend with.
Looking into the future Simon, what do you think NHS dentistry will look like in four or five years’ time?
It will definitely be a core service. We will see the development of dental access centres, much like we’ve had in the past.
More practices will get to the point where their NHS commitment will become untenable. But I do think, and I haven’t got anything to base this on, that we will start to see the NHS say: ‘You’re in or you’re out’. You’ve either got an NHS contract or you’re going private.
I do see that being a big obstacle and also something the BDA would fight. But I think that could be where we’re heading.