Thinking of leaving the NHS? It’s your choice

Thinking of leaving the NHS? It’s your choice

Practice Plan regional support manager Josie Hutchings contemplates the options open to an NHS dental practitioner.

The Health and Social Care Parliamentary Select Committee hearings into NHS dentistry this spring did little, if anything, to convince dental contract holders that change was a-coming any time soon.

Despite chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee Shawn Charlwood telling MPs on the Select Committee that last July’s changes to the contract was just ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while the service slowly slips into the sea’, there seems to be little hope of any improvement in the lot of NHS dentists any time soon.

First place to start

Consequently, we at Practice Plan have seen huge increases in the number of dentists who are choosing to hand back their NHS contracts. But is this always the right move? And if it is, how do you go about it in a manner that will maximise your success?

Possibly the first place to start is by asking yourself why you want to make the change. Many dentists have put up with the restrictions of an NHS contract in one form or another, because they were wedded to the NHS ideology.

Turning your back on that kind of commitment is unlikely to be something that can be done easily, so it’s important to ensure it really is what you want to do.

For most people, there’s more to life than just money, although it is important to be able to pay the bills!

However, there are other things such as job satisfaction, delivering quality care to patients as well as continued professional and personal development.

And, as the pandemic showed for a lot of people, achieving a good work life balance and feeling well enough to be able to spend quality time with family and friends are all key factors to take into account. It’s a cliché, but nobody says on their deathbed that they wished they’d spent more time at work.

Once you have evaluated what you want, you can then start planning how you can achieve it.

Have a plan

Leaving the relative security of an NHS contract to strike out on your own can be scary. It’s a step into the unknown. In which case it’s probably a good idea to get some advice from someone who has experience of making this type of change.

A membership plan provider can be a great help at a time like this. Before you make the move, they can do the number crunching for you to assess whether your particular practice is likely to make a success of going private.

They’ll consider the number of patients you have, the level of demand for dentistry in your area and the likely level of support you will receive from your existing patients. That will include an analysis of the length of time you have been treating your patients and the demographic of your area.

However, with the crisis in patient access, even practices in areas of relatively high deprivation have seen successful conversions to private practice over the past year.

As well as helping to steady the nerves, the risk assessment offers a realistic picture of what you need to achieve to make a go of private practice.

Many dentists apprehensive about the prospect of becoming independent feel reassured and more confident by going through this process.

Regardless of how positive this exercise may prove to be, the decision to change is always yours. If the time is not right for you, certainly we at Practice Plan will not pressure you in any way. You are in control.

Teamwork is essential

Having made the final decision to change, it’s vital that the whole team is on board. Ensuring everyone buys into the change can be the difference between being successful and just surviving.

It’s important to communicate to the whole team that this move is a positive step, and not a negative one. Selling how the change will benefit them as employees as well as the patients is important, as they will need to communicate these benefits to others.

If you encounter some negative responses from team members, then they need to be taken seriously and addressed.

Many people fear change and spending time talking about and allaying any misgivings team members may have will be well spent. Your team will be more likely to be able to speak confidently to patients about the changes if they feel well informed themselves.

How you communicate the change to your patients can make or break your relationship with them. So it’s wise to take advice from those who have developed conversion letters, plan brochures and practice marketing material before.

How you communicate with your patients, whether through the conversion letter, your website or brochures is part of your brand and will affect how you’re viewed by existing and prospective patients.

Poor quality communication could damage your brand and your reputation, so it’s important to take the right advice and get things right first time.

Common sense

If you start by deciding where you want to be, then you should be able to chart a successful course. Thorough planning, preparation and teamwork will go a long way towards ensuring a successful conversion, if that’s the way you choose to go.

However, with patient demand so high, dentists now find themselves in a position of strength. The BBC survey from August 2022 showed nine in ten of the practices who responded were not taking on new patients, leaving many struggling to get an appointment.

This now means that dentists need not have the same level of fear about not having sufficient patients to be able to survive as they may have done pre-pandemic.

Many patients are prepared to pay just to be able to see a dentist, any dentist! And, judging by the attitude of the Health Minister during the Select Committee hearings, that situation is unlikely to change soon.

If you’re considering your options away from the NHS and are looking for a provider who will hold your hand through the process while 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 at

For more information visit the Practice Plan website:

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