Clinical freedom in a time of austerity
I regularly have to straddle a line between what principals need and what associates want, whilst attempting to keep both sides happy.
Often this involves money and the phrase ‘clinical freedom’.
Amongst the things they never teach you at dental school is that you must cover your costs before you can take anything out for yourself.
Increasing overheads makes this hard.
For instance, a 13% increase in CQC fees to ‘better align the cost of regulation’ must be borne by business owners.
Aspiration or reality?
As far as NHS practices are concerned, the minimal rise in fees during a decade of austerity have been swamped by rising costs.
Where contracts are fixed and consume a week’s full-time work to achieve them, there is little or no room for increasing productivity.
Associates, who have the dubiously privileged position of being self-employed, must take their share of the repeated squeezes on practice owners.
Either earn more (difficult with a fixed contract) or cost less.
Because previous generations earned a bigger slice than you unfortunately does not mean that there is any divine right.
In any profession it is time and expertise for which people pay.
The third party fee setter (the NHS) took a set of fees from a decade and a half ago and continues to run with them.
This ignores the flexibility and evolution that existed in the dental contracts for nearly six decades, which helped practices stay agile in order to remain profitable.
Sometimes these money pressures are manifested in a reduction in quality of working conditions; for instance equipment might not be maintained, materials and laboratories are chosen on cost and choice is limited and staff might be ‘bargain basement’.
As the first casualty of war is truth, so clinical freedom can become an aspiration rather than a reality.
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