Are dentists really ‘growing more optimistic’ over NHS contract reforms?

Are dentists really ‘growing more optimistic’ over NHS contract reforms?

A new report suggest that dentists are ‘growing more optimistic’ over potential NHS contract reforms – while 70% of the dental profession still expect profits to grow this year. But one dentist questions how applicable the report’s findings are to the dental profession as a whole.

According to the Lloyds Bank Healthcare Confidence Index, short-term confidence amongst dentists, GPs and pharmacists has declined during 2022.

Despite falling by three points, the smallest drop on any of the professions, dentists’ short-term confidence is the highest at 35.

However, seven in 10 dental professionals expect profits to increase in 2023 while goodwill values remain high.

More optimistic

Martyn Kendrick, head of healthcare banking services, Lloyds Bank, put this down to the profession’s historical resilience.

‘Dentists seem to be growing more optimistic about potential NHS contract reforms too,’ he writes in the report.

‘This is a profession that has always been resilient and entrepreneurial, and I am sure that dentists will continue to create growth opportunities through any reform, while also working to achieve the best outcomes for their patients.’

He added: ‘Pressure on margins will be unavoidable in the year ahead, but dentists are agile and adaptable and I’m confident they can come through this testing time in good shape.’

Nishma Sharma, dentist and clinical adviser, believes the report is not representative of the entire profession.

‘Whilst some positivity can be taken from this index report, I question how much of this relates to the dental profession as a whole,’ she said.

‘I wonder how much of the expectant increase in good will value ended up in the pay of our dental nurses during the season of goodwill? I doubt dental hygienists and dental therapists will be ready to crack open bottles of champagne with the expectation of their profits increasing over the next year.

‘It’s hard to imagine the hardworking NHS associates being asked to cater to the current cosmetic boom whilst buckling under the pressure to hit their pre-Covid targets, delivering day after day will be raising a glass any time soon. 

‘These reports fail to show any clear sophistication on the demographic of those providing the data and whilst we know contract holders and practice owners may be intoxicated with joy and optimism over their financial wins, they are not being equally shared by all.’

Immense burden

She adds that the aesthetic focus within the report ultimately ignores the wider realities within dentistry right now.

‘All the index highlights for me is the clear cosmetic trend over the last two years as we all sleepwalk towards the Private Panacea ignoring the cost-of-living monster in the room. 

‘The index report states half of dentists are struggling to find the ‘right quality’ of associates currently, I can only guess this refers to associates willing to work the extra hours to not only exploit the current cosmetic boom but also endure the immense burden of delivering on the non-credible UDAs; a cake and eat it scenario.’

She adds: ‘There is a conflict of feeling noted with a mere 23% feeling standards of working under the NHS would improve against a staggering 75% thinking NHS services to patients will worsen over the next five years, and a further 35% feeling NHS reform would help boost profits, but no mention of patient care.

‘Of course, practices need to be profitable to enable growth, innovation, and progression, and ultimately happier, healthier patients with a happier, healthier workforce. 

‘What I fundamentally disagree with is the way in which this distribution of profits trickles down, or doesn’t as is the case, to the whole of the dental team.’

Other findings from the Index include:

  • More than half of dentists expect goodwill values to increase over the next 12 months
  • More than one third of dentists plan to retire in the next 10 years
  • Half of dentists struggle to find the right quality of applicants for new dental associates
  • Less than a third (28%) are taking action to make their practices more energy efficient.

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