Is there a future for NHS dentistry? Practice Plan’s sales and marketing director, Nigel Jones, offers his views following the recent Parliamentary Select Committee hearings.
The Health and Social Care Select Committee hearings have, once again, thrown the spotlight on the state of NHS dentistry. This was prompted, in part, by the findings of the BBC’s survey into dentistry in England published in August 2022, which revealed nine out of 10 NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients. Also influential are the stories of DIY dentistry and ‘dental deserts’ appearing almost daily in the media.
One of dentistry’s biggest questions
So, is there a future for NHS dentistry? That is one of dentistry’s biggest questions to be discussed, by me and other panel members at the sessions in Practice Plan’s Dental Business Theatre at the British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show on 12 and 13 May.
Other panel members will be BDA General Dental Practice Committee chair, Shawn Charlwood, dentist and head of BDA indemnity, Len D’Cruz, clinical director for the British Association of Private Dentistry, Simon Thackeray and dental business coach, Chris Barrow.
However, for those who have already concluded there is no future for them in NHS dentistry, Practice Plan experts Zoe Close and Suki Singh will outline how to make a successful move from NHS to private dentistry in their sessions.
Whether there is a future for NHS dentistry as we currently know it is certainly a moot point. On a recent British Association of Private Dentists (BAPD) webinar, Chris Barrow was of the opinion that the NHS was merely going through a change of direction.
Using a sailing metaphor, he felt NHS dentistry was changing tack to be able to weather its current circumstances. He was confident that over the coming months it would set a new course and continue in that direction until it needed to change tack again.
I can appreciate Chris’s viewpoint as, during my 33 years of observing these types of changes, there have certainly been times when I thought NHS dentistry was on its knees and it turned out not to be the case. It executed one of those tacks that Chris refers to.
It’s not all plain sailing
One very significant difference with the current state of affairs that does need consideration is the lack of full-time equivalent clinicians and the resultant supply demand imbalance that has therefore been created.
So many dentists who have thus far remained in the NHS, in part because they felt they had no choice, believed they would be unable to retain enough patients on a private basis to achieve their financial goals.
However, boosted by the evidence of widespread waiting lists and numerous success stories from among professional colleagues, confidence about the viability of ‘going private’ is growing rapidly.
At the same time, the cost-of-living crisis is threatening the financial viability of NHS practice and has already forced the hands of a number of NHS dentists over the last few months. In England, the nature of the NHS contract has left them hamstrung and unable to pass on the inflationary costs including, for example, increases in nurse wages, as well as the cost of attracting or retaining an associate.
Those in the independent sector have been able to adjust their private fees to enhance their offers to associates’ prices. Indeed, this has made it harder and harder for NHS practices to compete. There is now a greater opportunity to make a success of private practice than at any time in my career to date.
So as a consequence, far from feeling trapped in the NHS, I believe dentists can weigh up their options in a positive way and decide what is best for their careers, their health and their family lives.
While dentists have shown over the years that they have the creativity and ability to innovate, to be able to adapt to difficult circumstances, the big difference now is that they have no need to adapt to the latest pressures of the NHS unless they want to.
They have genuine choice now and that is a significant change from anything I’ve seen.
Like Chris, I am certain the NHS will survive in some form, and I believe this year should be the catalyst for a serious discussion about how private and NHS dentistry coexist to reduce oral health inequalities, rather than both parties being involved in a ‘them or us’ conflict.
There is a need to establish how the two sides work together rather than in adversity.
This will necessitate an extensive process of reinvention. However, these are my thoughts only. Others may see things differently.
If you’re considering your options away from the NHS and are looking for a provider who will hold your hand through the process whilst moving at a pace that’s right for you, why not start the conversation with the Practice Plan team at Stand K50 at the Dentistry Show?