Nigel Jones reflects on popularity of private practice and how it speaks volumes for how much the dental profession is valued.
Since relocating to Keswick in the Lake District, I’ve learnt beyond all doubt not to rely on the weather forecast. It’s rarely accurate, although, on the plus side, the weather generally turns out to be slightly better than expected or, at least, not as bad!
Not that I blame the Met Office. With so many variables in my part of the world, I can understand the difficulty and have just become accustomed to the uncertainty and respond to what I can see out of the window.
In what I appreciate is potentially, a tenuous link, I’m currently adopting the same approach to dentistry. It’s not that I don’t plan ahead or consider the risks going forward – that’s an essential part of my role as a statutory director.
It’s just that, despite what the media would seemingly like us to do, expending too much energy on worrying about what might happen in the future seems a waste of time. Especially when no one seems at all sure what scenarios will play out.
So, what can I see out of my dental window at the moment?
The big difference
Well, contrary to what some people might have anticipated, I am not seeing any evidence of an increase in individual patients responding to the cost of living crisis by cancelling their dental membership plans.
As you would expect, we monitor these things closely and it was the same story in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. However, there is a big difference between now and 2008.
Back then, although people didn’t appear to be cancelling their plans, we saw a decline in the number of people joining dental plans to replenish the normal level of cancellations.
It seemed that while an existing direct debit for a dental plan didn’t leap out at people from their bank statements, patients were hesitant about committing to a new direct debit. Whereas what we are seeing now is a steady year-on-year increase in the number of people joining dental plans.
That may not be a surprise to many in the profession. With the challenges facing dentists working within the NHS, we are helping more of them make the transition to private practice which will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of patients on dental plans.
However, this is a major challenge for those people who will fall between the cracks of NHS and private dentistry and that needs very careful consideration – not just by government, but by all of us.
It is, though, a useful reminder that despite all the economic uncertainty and potential job insecurity, there are enough patients who prioritise their oral health to enable private practice to remain a viable option.
That speaks volumes for how much the dental profession is valued and how well it has motivated a huge proportion of the population.
Of course, like here in Keswick, the view from the window can change.
However, with no quick fixes to address the reduced supply of dentistry, even a dampened level of demand in the coming months is likely to mean private practice owners will remain in a relatively strong position.