Nigel Jones discusses one of the perceived barriers to moving from NHS to private practice – the fear of losing too many patients.

How many patients do you need to retain to make the move from NHS to private dentistry a success? This is what seems to be the million-dollar question – or rather, the ‘whatever amount you need to be financially viable’ question – for most dentists.

While the answer may vary from practice to practice, and relies on a number of different factors, the chances are it’s not as many as you think. Yet it can often be a barrier, even if it is unfounded, to becoming more private.

But with yet more tales of woe in the media about the NHS – one of the most recent being that the deficit at the end of the third quarter had risen to £886 million, which is £300 million more than the target and will do nothing to allay concerns about the lack of funding or precedence allocated to dentistry – and the continued uncertainty around the English NHS dental contract reform, perhaps the other question you need to be asking yourself is: ‘How long can I stay in the NHS?’

Asking the questions

These are not easy questions to answer, but if you’re already thinking about gaining more independence and moving towards private dentistry, then you owe it to yourself to begin exploring the answers.

It can be daunting to know where to start but it’s worthwhile remembering there is specialist support out there that can make that first step easier. They can help you start making the initial investigations, and bear in mind that if the answers don’t stack up right, with the correct partners who have your best interests at heart, there should be no obligation to make the move.

Having supported many practices to make the move, I know that the question I began this article with is one of the key concerns dentists have and is often the starting point for those beginning to explore their options.

Many people assume they need all or the majority of their current patient list to follow them to private. Yet that simply is not the case, and most dentists do retain enough patients to successfully transition from NHS to private.

A variety of factors can influence how many of your patients will follow you. These include the strength of your relationship with patients – which is affected by how long you’ve been seeing them, the buy-in from your team, how you communicate with patients and, in some cases, the socio-economics of the area.

Informed decision

Having said that, most people would probably be surprised at how many patients you can afford to lose and still successfully convert to private. In some cases, it is possible to retain only 50% of the patient base.

Alongside the patient-related factors above there are also a range of elements to consider when knowing if the private practice path is the right one for you. For instance, you need to consider your financial targets, your working pattern, the number of holidays you want to take – to name but a few.

Robust analysis of all these influences will help you to make a well-informed, calculated decision, and it is here that many dentists find it most useful to have additional support; in breaking down all the component parts and knowing how much weight to give to each in order to come to a considered conclusion and plan how best to make a successful move to private dentistry.


Practice plan is a provider of practice-branded dental plans. If you’re considering your options out of the NHS and want support to begin examining the next step that’s best for you, call 01691 684165 or visit nhs.practiceplan.co.uk.