Ask any member of the team at Corbridge Dental what advice they would give to a dentist considering leaving the NHS and the resounding response would be ‘do it!’
Dentist Helen Louden became practice principal in 2021 having worked there for eight years as an associate. At the time she took over, she had no intention of leaving the NHS.
However it soon became apparent that remaining within the NHS would be a difficult path to tread. She began looking for a plan provider to help her make the move to private practice.
Appreciating the importance of getting this choice right, she decided to ask around for recommendations. ‘Once we decided we were going to leave the NHS,’ she explained, ‘I started to put feelers out. I began speaking to friends, and colleagues who were private dentists in the area, and a lot of them talked about Practice Plan. They came out on top all the time.’
As well as the guaranteed income a plan would provide, Helen was also looking for a provider that would support her through the process of leaving the NHS and in Practice Plan she found just that.
Her helping hand on the way through the conversion was regional support manager Jayne Gibson. When asked about the support Jayne offered to her and the team, Helen says: ‘I would say in one word it was excellent. Jayne was so supportive, just there the whole way. Don’t get me wrong, it was a bit stressful at times. But Jayne came in, and she became part of the team, and held our hands. She trained us how to handle things, what to do.’
Moving a team to private practice who had only worked within the NHS needed careful handling. Jayne impressed upon Helen the need to bring the team’s hearts and minds with her.
‘Jayne really helped me get all the team on board because it was really important to have everyone with me,’ Helen explains. ‘From that little nugget from Jayne, once we decided we were doing it, we just took the bull by the horns and went for it. And even now, people are still phoning with questions, asking us things that we can’t answer, but we just call Jayne, or head office, and it’s answered.’
Communicating the change to patients was a major undertaking. However, Jayne amply supported the team to do this. ‘At first, it was a little stressful, explaining to patients,’ admits practice manager Cerri Crowe.
‘Obviously, they were wondering what the price differences were going to be and how it was going to work for them. But Jayne came, and she just became part of the team, really. And helped us through everything.
‘Anything we needed to ask her; she was just at the end of the phone. For the first three days, in fact, she came here and worked with us, which was great.’
However, the Practice Plan support didn’t end after those first three days. ‘Jayne is definitely still there for us,’ Cerri asserts. ‘We talk to her most weeks. She’s made it very clear that if we need her for anything to just get in touch, and it’s obvious she’s happy for us to do that as well.’
Cerri feels the same can be said of the support from Practice Plan’s head office team. ‘If we ever ring with anything, it’s so easy. Everybody solves any problem we have; answers any questions we need to be answered. To be honest, it’s been really good. I would definitely recommend Practice Plan.’
Since making the move, Helen feels her work life has improved for the better. Compared with the atmosphere when she was still within the NHS, practice life now is calmer. ‘It’s a nicer environment,” she says. ‘We’re still doing our job, still looking after our patients and giving the quality, but we don’t have these awful targets hanging over us.
‘We can offer longer appointments; we’ve got more availability. I’ve managed to recruit a lovely new dentist, which I couldn’t before on the NHS, and because of that we’re opening longer.’
Helen also believes the team members are not the only beneficiaries of the change. ‘The patients are happier, as well. They’ve all been really supportive and it’s just a nice environment. It’s the time we now have for our patients and the quality. Not that we didn’t give the quality before, but we just have more time.’
Relishing the move
Jack Gooding, the ‘lovely new dentist’ Helen was able to recruit, agrees wholeheartedly about the improvement. Prior to joining the Corbridge team in September last year, he had spent around 13 years working in an NHS practice.
He is now relishing the move to private work. ‘I finally enjoy working again,’ he says. ‘I look forward to coming to work. I’ve so much more time to look after my patients properly, to not be stressed, to just enjoy my job again.’
Jack believes the benefits of the change are also being felt by the whole team, not just the dentists. ‘One of the main benefits of working in a private practice now compared to the NHS is everyone’s happy,’ he remarks.
‘I’ve noticed that the nurses are much more relaxed, and we can talk a lot more. The team is so much more together because everyone has less stress. There is the same amount of work to do, but you have more time to do it so you can get it done properly. It’s blown my mind a little bit, to be honest.’
Dental nurse Christine Reed agrees with Jack. ‘It’s a much better environment to work in now,’ she says. ‘We can concentrate on talking to the patients, so we can make them feel more comfortable. It’s not like a conveyor belt, where there’s one in, one out. And I think the patients feel calmer and more relaxed.’
Things are now on an even keel and the team has settled into the new way of working. Despite previously only having worked in NHS practices during her 20-year career, Christine feels she has adapted well and is happy to encourage patients to become plan members. ‘It took a little while to get used to what we’re talking about,’ she admits.
‘But now I can chat with patients about the plan. I find the majority of patients are happy to be going onto the plan, because they want to stay with this practice.’
So, what is the major benefit Helen feels the change has yielded? ‘Team morale is definitely up,’ she says. ‘They’re happier because we’re all enjoying our jobs now. We all love our jobs, but we’re enjoying it without having the pressure of targets hanging over our heads.
‘One of my patients said to me last year, “I hope you’re not being a busy fool,” and I absolutely was. We’re now busy, but we’re not busy fools anymore. It’s a good busy. You’re more in control.’
How would she sum up her experience?
‘Every dentist you speak to who’s left the NHS says, “why didn’t I do it sooner?” This is my first practice being a principal. Being an associate was so different, but being the principal, you have much more of an insight into the costs of running the practice, and the work involved.
‘I honestly don’t know how NHS dentists keep their head above water. But as an associate, I don’t think I was fully aware of that. I didn’t like the targets and I found the pressures hard, but having taken on the practice, going private with Practice Plan is 100% the right thing to have done.
‘If a dentist were to ask me whether they should leave the NHS, I’d advise them just to do it. Yes, it’s a bit of a risk, it’s a bit of an unknown, but you’ve just got to go for it.
‘Having done it life now is calmer, happier, and there’s a general sense of relief that we’re off the treadmill. We’re just generally happier.’
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 Practice Plan on 01691 684165, or book your one-to-one NHS to private call today: practiceplan.co.uk/nhsvirtual
For more information visit the Practice Plan website: practiceplan.co.uk.