Matthew Hadman shares his experiences of engaging with dentists on their opinions around NHS dentistry and assesses whether there has never been a better time to seriously consider practicing in a fully private capacity.
After working through the pandemic, plenty of dentists have taken the time to step back, take stock, and re-consider their work-life balance and the type of dentistry they really want to deliver.
Many dentists who had been working to deliver NHS dental services or own a practice with an NHS contract in place have used this time to re-evaluate the importance of NHS services in their practice, whether they wish to remain in the system and how they could look to transition to private dentistry.
Considering the future
Having spoken with a wide range of dentists in the past months, some feel disrespected at the lack of guidance, or the last-minute announcements from the NHS during the pandemic.
Others have re-discovered their love of dentistry working under reduced activity thresholds for almost two years – not having to see so many patients to achieve the NHS income allowed dentists to see the benefit in longer appointment times and building stronger, more meaningful relationships with their patients.
Those dentists have been concerned about returning to 100% activity and the affect this will have on their enjoyment of their job role, and the level of care they can give to patients.
A lot of the conversations we have with dentists are based around ‘is now the right time for me to go private?’ Everybody’s circumstances are unique.
But the market conditions are certainly favourable given the behaviours within the profession and the national media coverage around NHS dentistry and the lack of access for patients.
The consensus is that there has never been a better time to consider the transition to private dentistry.
There are lots of opportunities for private dentistry and many practices report significant numbers of new patient enquiries. Thanks to the ‘Zoom Boom’, there is an increased demand for cosmetic treatments like short-term orthodontics and tooth whitening.
Demand outstrips supply
The increased new patient enquiries practices are experiencing are coming from the lack of access within NHS dentistry. This is unlikely to be going away given the announcement to increase UDA payments but with no additional funding.
Using up the existing funding more quickly, on fewer patients means access is only going to get worse.
With this sort of thought process around NHS dentistry, it means the demand for dentistry is likely to keep outstripping supply for some time to come.
On top of this, patients were unable to attend a dental practice during the first lockdown and this made many patients realise how much they value being able to see the dentist they know and trust at the frequency they require.
When you pull all these things together, along with the fact the pandemic has given us a much more health-focused society, you’ll likely find patients are much more receptive to the changes than you first realised.
While some dentists will welcome the recent changes announced by the OCDO, many feel it does not go far enough and certainly does not outweigh the constraints of working for one customer – the NHS.
Having one source of income can be risky, particularly when it comes to controlling the future of the practice and the hoops that you must jump through to secure that income.
NHS to Private
A good place to start is by taking the time to reflect, not just on the last couple of years throughout the pandemic but more generally on the message you want your practice to carry, the work-life balance you’d like to achieve, and how much control you’d like over the business you’re running.
That will help you decide whether you want to become a mixed practice – one that offers both NHS and private treatments (perhaps with a view to moving fully private later). Or if you’d rather make the full transition and cut all ties with the NHS in the more immediate future.
When making any changes to the practice you need to consider the financial impact of the change and plan accordingly. Therefore, if you want to move to private dentistry, it is worth thinking about offering a membership plan for patients and the benefits this will bring for both the patients and the practice.
Establishing a sound and well-populated plan can help to replace the regular income you receive from the NHS.
The right time
A good membership plan can help to make the process easier for the business – by providing guaranteed monthly income that makes cash-flow and financial forecasting easier while building a list of motivated, loyal patients who will uptake treatment with you at the right time.
It can also make the transition easier for patients. Many dentists feel that moving from the NHS to private with a dental plan in place is easier for patients to accept, compared to pay-as-you-go, as patients switch from paying NHS fees to paying a smaller, more affordable, monthly cost in place of larger over-the-counter fees when the appointment falls due.
Remember: patients on a plan are more likely to attend their appointments at the recommended frequency which means they generally have better oral health than their pay-as-you-go equivalent. Regular attendance of your patient list also means there is less white space in the diary.
If you decide to go completely private and introduce a dental plan, there is another consideration to think about as well; whether you want to become a membership-only practice, this kind of consideration is exactly the type of thing the team at Patient Plan Direct advice on during the vitality and financial assessment planning stages we work through with practices.
There is no set way to move from the NHS into private dentistry. Every practice is different, with their own unique circumstances, and so each conversion needs to be assessed on a range of factors such as how long you have been seeing your patients, what other practices in the area are offering, the demographic of your patient. The list goes on.
Becoming a private practice involves considering and reviewing all these factors and developing a strategy that supports you through them successfully.
Working with Patient Plan Direct means you can receive support from start to finish for your NHS conversion.
We will complete viability and financial assessment of your practice, put together a communication plan for patients (how you will tell them about the changes), create bespoke dental plans that your vision for your business while ensuring they meet the needs of your patients.
Moreover, thanks to our low fees, you’ll retain more income in comparison to working with other major plan providers.
While the last two to three years have been challenging, the pandemic has created a situation in which dentists and business owners now can choose a future they want for themselves and for their business.
If that future involves a transition to private dentistry, a membership plan can make the transition easier for the dentist, their team and their patients.
As the most cost-effective major plan provider, Patient Plan Direct offers a fully comprehensive service to help practices make a successful transition from NHS to private dentistry.