Recently, the BDA’s (British Dental Association’s) General Dental Practice Committee met to debate changing the new contract in England.
During this meeting, John Milne, chair of the committee, commented: ‘We welcome the alternative contract reform contribution to the debate on a flawed system that has blighted the profession since 2006.
‘The case for change is now irresistible.
‘We will ensure that these ideas are considered in our on-going discussions with the Government as we work to forge a workable alternative that the profession can unite around.
‘We have an historic opportunity here to turn the page on activity targets and put prevention at the heart of dentistry.’
Meanwhile, the latest report into the UK dentistry market from Laingbuisson paints an interesting picture for dentists looking to the future. It indicates that, after a difficult economic time, private dentistry is set to ‘bounce back’ and make the most of the opportunities offered by an industry currently valued to be worth £5.9bn every year.
Within the context of the anticipated upcoming changes to the NHS contract what, in reality, can private dentistry offer all parties involved in this area of healthcare?
NHS dentistry, for many, offers an excellent service with its focus on performing clinically necessary treatment to achieve healthy mouths, teeth and gums. Cosmetic dentistry, on the whole, is not available on the NHS, of course.
In this day and age, patients have access to an incredible amount of information; whatever their worry there is a solution to be found on the internet. The end result is that more and more patients are asking their dentists about treatments that go beyond what the NHS can offer.
A private element enables NHS dentists whose patients request an aesthetic solution to offer a viable service; patients may be surprised to learn that they can have a combined NHS/private treatment plan.
While the level of care offered by dentists working within the NHS is not in doubt, some may feel constrained by the current UDA (units of dental activity) system. Time management is always a challenge, whether working within NHS or private practice.
Although NHS treatment achieves the same high quality results as private dentistry, it is interesting to note that potentially dentists will be asked to do more for less under the NHS with the introduction of new regulations (NHS England) – and with no budget increase. This, it seems likely, would make it that bit harder to provide NHS patients with the appropriate amount of time to meet their needs.
Private practitioners, on the other hand, have greater control over their hourly rate, which helps the dentist to schedule their time to best effect. This leads to a number of new opportunities; this might include being able to fully discuss what is on patients’ minds without worrying about the next appointment. In a potentially less pressured environment, patients may be more open about what they want.
That isn’t to say that this is impossible under the NHS but rather that it may suit some dentists to consider what private practice offers. Certainly, private dentistry allows various treatments to be suggested that are simply unavailable on the NHS. Offering patients the best of both worlds is certainly a tempting ideology.
The choice is yours
This article provides just a snapshot of what private dentistry can offer you, your team and your patients. That is not to say, however, that there isn’t a place for NHS dentistry, the providers of which offer a dedicated service. The truth is it’s very difficult to compare the two, since one is measured in time and costs, and the other in units.
As already mentioned, there is a new contract currently being piloted with a different remuneration system, so what this will mean in financial terms remains to be seen. Irrespective of the outcome of these pilots, however, private dentistry offers a viable alternative to make the most of your time and expertise.
Whatever type of dentistry you and your team want to carry out, there is a system that will work for you. Whether to stay within the NHS, opt for a mixed practice or make the leap to practising private dentistry exclusively, ultimately the choice is yours.
Michelle is part of the change support team for Practice Plan. She guided many dentists through the 2006 NHS contract and continues to do so today; contact her for further advice and support on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.practiceplan.co.uk/nhs.