Richard Scarborough explores the potential pitfalls that dentists make when moving away from the NHS, and the best way to avoid them.

Moving away from the NHS to private practice could be one of the biggest professional decisions you ever make. Whether you are moving to wholly private or just partially, it is a significant change to your business model and as such, comes with potential risks.

Having said that, with plenty of preparation, research and support, you can avoid the possible pitfalls and ensure the transition is well-informed and as seamless as possible. Here are some of the key areas to avoid as you look to gain more independence from the NHS:

An incomplete grasp of the financial situation

Money may not be the key driver for your transition, but you still need a financially sound business. You need to know how much income is required, and how many patients are needed to generate that income.

Depending on the type of conversion you are planning, that can mean knowing how many patients you need to cover the NHS contract or any capital expenditure and costs that may be incurred.

Lack of insight into patient data

You need enough of your patients to follow you and become private to make the move successful. To know if this is feasible you should carry out some initial investigations into your patient base; is it increasing or decreasing? Do they regularly opt for private treatments?

Inadequate patient communication

If you are thinking of converting in the future, you should already be communicating with your patients, either at appointments or via newsletters, about anything that can add to your credibility and build your reputation.

Reputation and perceived higher quality of care were two of the reasons patients gave for going private in the last Adult Dental Health Survey. Furthermore, if you already have a strong channel of communication, this should make it easier when it comes to telling your patients about the move to private.

Lack of awareness of your local market

To give yourself the best chance of success, you need to examine what is happening within dentistry locally. The last Adult Dental Health Survey showed that the second highest reason why people go private is because an NHS dentist isn’t available (the first is because their dentist switched).

So, in order to be able to predict whether your patients will be able to make the transition, you should look at what their choices are. Are there other NHS practices nearby? If you rescind your NHS contract, is the NHS likely to put it out to tender?

What all this says to me, loud and clear, is that research and forward planning is essential to navigate the move to private dentistry. You need to have a full picture of what is happening, not only in your own practice but also in your local area to plan your next steps effectively.

The important thing to remember is that you do not need to tread this path alone. There are industry specialists who can help you carry out the necessary calculations, analyse the information and make sense of what it means. The results of these enquiries will help you to see the right direction you should head in to secure a successful future.


If you are interested in finding out more about how Practice Plan can help you assess the viability of introducing private work, call 01691 684165 or visit nhs.practiceplan.co.uk.