Too many obstacles preventing you leaving the NHS?

Welcome to the 'Great Barrier Relief'

19 September, 2023 / professional-focus
 Selina Alexander, Practice Plan Regional Support Manager (RSM)  

Would you like to leave behind the constraints of the NHS and move into the more liberal (and liberated!) world of private practice but have yet to do anything about it? Perhaps you’re being put off by some misapprehensions about what conditions are required to make a success of this move. Maybe you’re putting obstacles in your own way that are perceptions rather than reality.

Here, as Practice Plan Regional Support Manager (RSM), I debunk some popularly held misconceptions and introduce … the ‘Great Barrier Relief’.

Just as our calendar these days is divided into BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era), we can probably think of dentistry in terms of Before COVID (BC) and Post-COVID (PC). Before COVID, although some patients may have had to wait to see a dentist, most people could be seen by someone at some point. NHS dentists were all working flat out seeing upwards of 30 patients a day, because that was the way things were. And so, it continued.

Then in March 2020, COVID struck, and everything changed. All treatment stopped and surgeries closed. Yes, some dental hubs opened later and in summer 2020 (with little warning) surgeries were allowed to reopen but only to offer antibiotics and drain abscesses; certainly not to carry out any aerosol generating procedures (AGPs). Consequently, hundreds of thousands of potential appointments were lost leading to a huge backlog. This, along with dental professionals, like many others, reassessing what was important to them and choosing to work fewer hours, led to recruitment problems and, ultimately, a patient access crisis.

There won’t be enough patients

Before COVID (BC), one of the mostly commonly touted barriers preventing people leaving the NHS was the belief too few patients would sign up for private dentistry. However, it has always been the case that practices will usually need to lose patients when they move away from the NHS. Private, or independent dentistry, offers the opportunity for dentists to spend more time with their patients as there’s no longer a need to do the dental equivalent of ‘pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’ to survive. If you spend longer with your patients, then you are unable to see as many as you were as an NHS dentist. Therefore, you need to have fewer people on your list. Many dentists have been surprised at how few patients were needed to make the move a success.

However, with the number of NHS appointments diminishing all the time, there has been a change in patient mindset. They are now just happy to see a dentist, any dentist, and are more accepting of the idea of having to pay for private treatment. Consequently, practices that would have been advised BC that converting to private practice would be too risky for them, are now converting and thriving. Fears of having too few patients to move to private practice should no longer be an obstacle to going ahead.

Location, location, location

Time was, when there were certain areas that may not have been able to sustain a private dental practice because of the local demographic. The area may not have been considered affluent enough to make it viable. Now, PC that’s much less likely to be the case. So many practices in rural areas have closed because of difficulties finding associates prepared to work on NHS contracts that, as I said, patients are just happy to be able to find anyone to help them with their teeth. There is a much greater acceptance of private dentistry than there used to be, especially as it means more timely appointments and a surgery based locally.

Brief encounter

In 2019, another important factor we would have considered before advising a conversion was viable would have been the length of time the dentist had been at the practice. Patient loyalty was a significant factor at that time. However, without wishing to repeat myself, that was before the patient access crisis we’re experiencing.

As well as all those lost appointments, Scotland missed out on a year’s worth of young graduate dentists. Because of the pandemic, dental students who were due to graduate in summer 2021 were held back until 2022. This further contributed to the shortage of dentists available to see patients. So, we’re now in a position of demand for dental treatment far outstripping supply putting private dentists in a strong position. If a patient is on your list when you choose to convert, they are highly likely to remain with you, no matter how long you have been treating them, for fear of being unable to find another dentist with capacity to take them on.

Over to you

As you can see, some of the main objections, or barriers, people cited BC are no longer relevant. There has never been a better time to make the move to independent (private dentistry).  If you really want to make the change, then it’s time to put aside your fears, and whatever else is holding you back, and do it. As the famous baseball player, Babe Ruth said: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

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:

For more information visit the Practice Plan website:

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