Rowan Thomas speaks to Katrina Rees about the frustrations of working in NHS dentistry and how adopting a dental membership plan can help.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Katrina Rees. I’m an area manager at Practice Plan. I support dental practices with their membership plans and various other questions and queries that get thrown our way, particularly in relation to NHS conversions and driving extra income for their practices.
What does the landscape look like in dentistry right now?
I think it’s fair to say things are challenging. At the moment, any news story that pops up is a bad one when it comes to NHS dentistry. And in particular, access to NHS dentistry.
Associates, nurses and therapists are very much in short supply. And on top of that, there are huge frustrations with the NHS in general – contracts aren’t fit for purpose.
People are generally very unhappy and frustrated. I think any hope of any change happening is fading away now. More and more dentists are reassessing their future within the system completely.
What are you noticing with the practices that you work with?
There is a huge sway in practices moving away from the NHS into independent dentistry. NHS conversions are showing no sign of slowing down. We support many practices with getting their membership plans in place and patients onto plans so that they can replace that really important income.
We know practices just can’t get any associates to work. But to try and get an associate to work in the NHS is even harder. We’re finding it’s the associates who are driving change in the practice. They feel a big lack of earning potential on the NHS, so they just don’t want to do it. They want to go and do type of dentistry that they enjoy.
As business owners, there is that massive fear of constantly pushing to new targets and trying to avoid clawback. When I speak to practices, most of them are leaving because they’ve reached the end of their tether.
One client that I was with in South Wales a short while ago said to me, ‘Kat, it’s like working in a production line, it’s a factory. I get one patient in one patient out, I’m not able to give them the treatment that I’d like to do. It’s all about driving new patients through.’
He said this was causing him 90% of his stress and only generating 30% of his income.
What are the benefits of putting a membership plan in place?
There’s benefits for everybody in the practice. Memberships never been more sought after. They give the practice and the clinician the peace of mind that that regular income is going to be there all the time.
Despite not being able to open the doors during the pandemic, practices with plans in place were still able to count on fees coming in. That’s what inevitably helped them to survive. So that that guaranteed income is a no brainer for everybody.
Another point is chair time. Operational costs are massive. Empty chairs aren’t generating income for a business. NHS patients can be a little more prone to failing to attend or not turn up for these appointments.
If you’ve got patients on a membership plan, they are paying in advance. There is far less risk of them failing to attend. Plan patients have a genuine interest in their dental care and their oral health. They are more likely to listen to the the recommendations of their dentist.
Let’s go back to patients for a moment. This is a time where access to a dentist feels impossible, particularly NHS dentists. If you have membership in place in your practice, patients have peace of mind that they are registered with a dentist and can access ongoing routine dental care. It’s a big supply and demand issue at the moment.
Private care doesn’t need to be expensive. Membership plans are much more affordable as they can spread the cost of routine appointments. A lot of patients expect that now.
How can practices decide which of plan is right for them?
There are loads of different dental plans out there. We need to determine what type of dental plan is right for the practice and the patients’ needs.
We would meet with the practice to understand more about their business to assist them with this decision. We support the practice to get the plan that’s right for them. We guide them with costing and ensure that these plans are fit for purpose and will generate generate the income they need.
Most dentists would ideally like to see patients on a six-monthly basis. If you see your dentist regularly, they can spot potential issues ahead of them becoming a problem. Then the dentist will refer you to the hygienist twice a year. That’s what a typical dental membership plan would look like in a lot of practices.
But not all practices have got that makeup, so it’s not always viable. There’s lots of different plans that we can tailor to the needs of the business and the practice.
Do you have any advice for practices?
There’s always options available to support your practice to grow with a plan. It’s best not to stick all your eggs in one basket. Having money coming in from different income streams is always good – especially guaranteed income like a dental plan because that will help you plan ahead and budget.
Dental plans can be introduced at any time as an alternative way to provide access for the patient and an ongoing income stream.
If you have dental plans in place already with another provider and you’re not getting the support you need, they may not be fit for purpose. We see that quite a lot and we can help. There are things that can be done to manage your existing patient plan lists. We can also bulk transfer patients across from one provider to another, which is a very simple process.
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: practiceplan.co.uk/nhsvirtual.
For more information visit the Practice Plan website: practiceplan.co.uk/nhs.