In a recent discussion organised by NHS to Private conversion specialists Practice Plan, Creative Director, Les Jones, chatted to Ian Mills, a dentist based in an eight-surgery mixed NHS private practice in North Devon and Practice Plan Area Manager, Suki Singh, who shared their advice about converting from NHS to Private Practice
Les Jones: You’ve helped a lot of dentists make the move from NHS to private over the last 15 years, Suki. What makes an NHS dentist look to make that move and how are they going?
Suki Singh: The reasons have changed over the years. However, recently there have been instances where we’ve had conversations with practice owners who’ve said, “This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I need to do it now. Otherwise, I’m going to have to close the doors because I can’t deliver this NHS contract. I can’t keep the team; I can’t keep staff motivated.”
And, in the current climate, practices are getting a tremendous uptake of plan membership. Because the truth of the matter is patients have nowhere else to go.
Also, patient loyalty comes into it too. Patients want to have that continuous level of care with the practice of their choice and the dentist of their choice. And I think there’s been a mindset change with patients. They’ve accepted that NHS dentistry is possibly not something they’re going to be able to continue to have. And that’s really showing in patient uptake of practices converting.
LJ: You converted a while ago, Ian. How was it for you? Were there particular anxieties about making the move? Have there been many changes?
Ian Mills: Absolutely. And I think there still would be if I was doing it now. But probably less anxiety because you only need to look at your colleagues who have made a success of private conversion. The landscape has changed massively, both in terms of the profession’s tolerance of working within the current NHS contract, but also patients’ expectations. Practice owners will be only too aware of the challenges of recruitment and retention. Young dental graduates coming out now, by and large, don’t see a long-term future within the NHS. And that can be a huge challenge in terms of recruiting and retaining associates.
So, as a practice owner, if I want to recruit someone I’ve got to deliver against their ambitions or their aspirations. And that is generally to support them in upskilling and developing their experience, their knowledge, perhaps their qualifications, and help them deliver the dentistry that they want to. And that can be challenging within the NHS.
Patients’ expectations have changed. Thanks to the BDA and the coverage we’ve seen over the last couple of years, patients understand the huge problems there are in accessing NHS care. And many are resigned to the fact they will have to pay for private dentistry. So, some of them understand, and they appreciate and value it.
My slight concern is for those that are left behind, and my frustration within the NHS is that we aren’t providing a safety net for those that can’t afford private dentistry. But the landscape has changed beyond all recognition. But I still think there is a degree of anxiety when you make that leap. And I guess that’s why working with organisations such as Practice Plan is key.
LJ: Good point, Ian. Although Practice Plan will support during the process, it’s important to say that the practice owner remains in control all the way through in terms of the timing or the pace at which the actual conversion happens. Don’t they, Suki?
SS: Absolutely. At Practice Plan the speed at which things move is determined by the Principal Dentist or the decision makers. However, even if you’re just thinking about moving away from the NHS, it’s best to have the conversation now. Because there is a lot of planning to do before we press the button and send those letters out. So, we can take that time to make sure everything is in place for it to be successful.
LJ: Do you have any words of advice for someone considering making this move, Ian?
IM: You need to take a positive approach to things. There may be lots of negative reasons why you want to leave the NHS, but this has to be a positive step. You have to try and align the positive drivers for your staff and your patients and accentuate that. Because yes, it will hopefully be good for the practice and its finances, but I’m not sure it would be that convincing for your staff or your patients unless they see some benefit from it. So, it comes down to communication, relationships and taking people with you on that journey.
And when you’re making a challenging decision like this, you need support around you. That support might come from your peers or your colleagues. It’ll certainly come from an organisation such as Practice Plan. Dentistry can be incredibly stressful; you can feel very isolated at times. But that needn’t be the case. You must take confidence from the number of colleagues that have trodden this path already. There are many fantastic organisations such as the College of General Dentistry, who can offer you that network of friends and colleagues that’ll support you through developing skills. But also, if you’re concerned, worried or anxious, there are people around that have done this before and they’ll be very quick to reach out and help.
LJ: Thank you, both.
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. If you’d like to chat to someone in person, we’ll be at Stand D30 at Dentistry Show London on 6th and 7th October. Otherwise, call us 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: www.practiceplan.co.uk/nhs