A ‘transformational’ year ahead for Portman

The Portman team hosted an evening at The Dorchester hotel where they outlined the company's exciting plans for 2023. Lucy Veal spoke to Julie Ross, managing director, UK and Ireland, about what we can expect from Portman in the future, including the merger with Dentex and potential challenges. 

The Portman team hosted an evening at The Dorchester hotel where they outlined the company’s exciting plans for 2023. Lucy Veal spoke to Julie Ross, managing director, UK and Ireland, about what we can expect from Portman in the future, including the merger with Dentex and potential challenges.

What does this evening mean to the Portman team tonight? What are you hoping to get out of the evening?

Tonight is a repeat of an event we held last year. Last year was the first time we’d brought all of these stakeholders together. And it was fantastic!

It was just brilliant to meet everybody in person after quite a long gap because of Covid-19. There was a great exchange of ideas and information.

We were able to talk about Portman’s journey and our ambition. But we were also able to learn from everybody who was there and their concerns, what they were aiming for in the year. It built some really good relationships.

So this year we want to build on that and do the same again. It’s been a tumultuous year for the whole world and a lot has changed. We think it’s a great opportunity to reaffirm again who Portman are, what we stand for, and what our ambition is in this new, changed world.

But then again to listen to all of our partners in the room, all of our stakeholders, and understand what it is that they want and need from us. And to hopefully strengthen those relationships and make sure we are all working together.

What do you hope the attendees from tonight get from the event?

I hope they get an even better understanding of Portman, understand our journey, where we’re heading, and feel confident in Portman’s future, which I’m sure they will.

I hope they also have a chance to get to know us better. We’ve got quite a new executive team, so there’s quite a lot of new faces for people to get to know and an opportunity for them to ask whatever’s on their minds.

We’re going to have an open Q&A session, so it really is an opportunity for a very frank exchange of and ideas. I think that will be really fruitful.

It’s also an opportunity for people to relax and have some fun, and hopefully everyone will really enjoy the evening.

Tonight you’re discussing your plans for 2023. What challenges did you have in 2022 and how did they shape Portman’s vision for 2023?

We’re very focused at Portman on our mission of transforming dentistry. That hasn’t changed through Portman’s history. However, how we deliver that changes slightly as we get bigger and as the world changes around us.

We’re still very focused on building the best dental group in the world and really transforming dentistry for clinicians, for our colleagues and for our patients. And that means different things for all of those three stakeholder groups.

But obviously a number of things have changed. So, for dentistry in general, recruitment remains a significant challenge.

We are very focused on really being the best place for dentists, nurses and practice managers to want to come and work. In 2022, we really ramped up our work in that area and we’re seeing some great results. This will continue into 2023.

A mission to transform dentistry

Obviously from a macro-economic point of view, there’s been a significant cost of living squeeze – that, for us, is a particular concern around our colleagues. So we’ve worked hard to try to keep pace with cost of living increases for our colleagues. But that puts other pressures on the business.

But we’re very aware of the challenges that many of our colleagues and our patients face. And the change in the macroeconomy has led to the cost of debt increasing, which is very important in a business that buys lots and lots of other businesses. The changing environment means we have to think differently about the types of practices we want to acquire.

We’re very focused on buying really high quality practices that are going to be brilliant practices into the future and that have the right characteristics for us.

A lot of the macroeconomic impacts of last year have changed how we think about some of the actions that we take. But the overall mission of transforming dentistry is unchanged.

What about things like the recruitment crisis? Do you have a strategy to tackle it?

I think there’s two separate parts for that. For clinicians, we are very focused on providing the best environment for them to work in. And we’re fortunate that that Portman is a group that many great clinicians are keen to come and work with.

We have a low turnover rate of our dentists, but we know we’ve got to really keep ahead of the curve for that. For example we’re investing heavily in clinical technology.

We’re rolling out intraoral scanners in many of our practices, we’re investigating the use of some of the very leading-edge tools around artificial intelligence to really create an environment where the best clinicians say: ‘I want to go and work there, because they’re really driving good clinical change.’

We’re also taking some very long-term views of clinician talent pipeline building, looking at pretty innovative programs that are helping to attract and retain the best clinicians.

For example, we have a program called Practice Clinical Lead. This is for dentists who generally haven’t owned their own practice in the past, but want a new challenge and to be more involved in the running of the practice.

We essentially give them a clinical leadership role in the practice they work in, and they work hand-in-hand with the practice manager to drive that practice forward. They’re incentivised on the performance of that practice. And it’s been fantastic!

We’re now through our third year of rolling this out, and we provide them with a lot of training and development around leadership, around management, around financials. And what we’re finding is, for younger clinicians who haven’t had a chance to own their own practice and probably don’t really want to own their own practice but they want leadership opportunities, that’s something that is very attractive to them.

We’re rolling out similar programs in different ways that helps us to build that future supply of brilliant clinicians.

Motivating and engaging the profession

On the side of nurses, nurses are critical. If we don’t have dental nurses, our dentists can’t work. We’ve done a lot of work over the last 18 months in ensuring that we’re paying our nurses fairly and appropriately.

We’ve introduced a range of new benefits, including being the first group to introduce enhanced maternity and paternity leave which is really important for a nurse population.

Also, we have introduced some great career development opportunities so that our nurses know, if they want to move into different roles from nursing.

For example, there’s a pathway for them to move to being a practice manager, a therapist, or whatever it is that they want to do. Really opening up the opportunities for them and making it easier for them to navigate those pathways.

We have found that to be very motivating and engaging for our nurse workforce. We’re really keen to continue to finding ways to engage that group, as well as our receptionists and our practice managers. But dental nurses and clinicians are where the recruitment challenge is tightest.

What other challenges are you expecting in 2023?

There’s an ongoing worry in dentistry about what the impact will be on the consumer, on our patients. At present, we’re not seeing a significant impact on our patient base from the cost of living crisis.

But I think we have to be very alive to that the possibility this will change. Also, it’s the impact on our colleague base who have a lot of cost pressures. We have to be very, very aware of that. We’re seeing changes in the market in terms of who’s buying dental practices. We are very committed to continuing to buy dental practices, but there’s others who are changing their view on that.

We’re keen to continue to invest and grow and upskill the business. For us in particular, we’ve obviously got the merger with Dentex coming up and we hope that will be completed in spring. That’s a huge opportunity for us as a business asit changes our scale significantly.

It lets us take opportunities that you can’t take until you reach a certain size. It will be a lot of work, but we’re very excited about that and we’re working in the limited way that we can in this period before we close. We’re working to build our relationships with the Dentex team who are fantastic.

We’re really excited about bringing that business together with Portman.

And what are you looking forward to in 2023?

We’re very excited about our merger with Dentex, as that moves us into a different phase of our growth. It moves us to a very different scale and it opens up a number of opportunities. We’re really excited about that.

I’m also excited about the fruition of a lot of these programs I’ve talked about. So really seeing how the engagement with our nurses has changed And what the impact of our PCL programme will be this year.

I’m excited about the technology advancements that we’re working on. Bringing AI into our clinics, bringing more consumer-centric technology into our clinics. There’s a lot of work that will come to fruition this year in the technology space that’s going to be quite transformational. It’s a lot of hard work that’s going be brilliant to see come alive.

What can we look forward to seeing in the next 12 to 24 months from Portman?

Well, I hope that everyone can look forward to seeing real innovation. That is not only good for Portman, but good for the whole industry.

If we can make dentistry a profession that people really want to be part of as a nurse or a practice manager, or even thinking about whether people want to be dentists, then I think that’s fantastic.

If we can innovate and learn things that we can then share with the wider profession, that’s a good thing. So I hope that there’s a lot of innovation that people see coming out from Portman. We want to really continue to work with our different stakeholder groups to really build those relationships.

Working in strategic partnerships with those different groups I think is something that we hope will be quite transformational this year.

Is there anything else that you want to add?

We think there’s a big opportunity through technology, but also through changes in ways of working, to make dentistry more convenient for people so that they really start to see it as part of their general wellbeing.

It’s not a luxury. It’s something that’s absolutely essential and is part of their health and their wellbeing.

We think people are very open to that, but we need to make dentistry accessible, convenient, and bring some of the great thinking from other consumer services to make sure that we’re creating a really great customer experience as well as a great patient experience.

Follow Dentistry.co.uk on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar