13 Apr 2016  •  Blog, NHS  •  3min read By  • Richard Scarborough

Which Way? An insight into the direction of travel for NHS dentistry

In issue 13 of The Business of Dentistry Magazine, an exclusive interview with the Chair of the BDA, Mick Armstrong, divulged his views on the future of the BDA as well as dentistry in the UK. Here, Richard Scarborough, Area Sales Manager from Practice Plan, reflects on Mick’s views when asked about the direction of travel for NHS dentistry.

When Mick was asked about the direction of travel for NHS dentistry, it was in relation to whether the prototypes would continue or whether the Government would seize the window of opportunity to introduce a more radical solution.

His responses started by stating that he had a huge amount of respect for Jimmy Steele and he had felt positive in the early stages of pilots and the prototypes as they seemed to offer the option for dentists to direct their time and resources where they were most needed. For Mick, it suggested that they would take the profession away from the UDAs and its target-driven culture, which he felt was a positive thing.

Having said that, lately his concern has been that the prototypes were moving back towards a more target-driven approach. By allowing dentists in the early stages to use their time as they saw fit, access became the victim and it started to fall – something that we are all aware the Government does not want to see. Hence, he felt a shift backwards. Speaking on behalf of the BDA, he made it clear that he’d like to see targets removed and if this reduced access, the next question to be posed should be ‘do we need more resources in dentistry?’

Based on my experience of running a type 2 Pilot practice, I struggle to see how a similar contract could be implemented on a national level.

One of the main operational challenges is the transitional period as the patients move between the two systems. The Pilot practice I ran went from patients being able to be seen within a week (on entry to Pilot) to patients having to wait 2-3 months for an appointment. As there was adequate NHS provision in the locality, this resulted in patient numbers declining by in excess of 10% (as patients presumably chose to be seen in other NHS practices).

After two years of being on Pilot and a change in the composition of the dental team (including the introduction of a therapist), the patients were once again seen within a week (albeit, this was based on a reduced patient base!) and patient numbers are once again increasing. After experiencing all of this, it does lead me to question: ‘What would have happened in an area where there was limited NHS contract where the patients would not have had the choice to be seen at a UDA practice?’ Would the patient base still have declined to the same extent? How long would it have taken to go through the transitional and get the appointment lead times down to an acceptable level?

For me, there are still a lot of questions that need to be fully thought through when it comes to the prototypes and the direction of travel of NHS dentistry is very much up in the air.

Interested in more of what Mick Armstrong had to say? Read more of the interview here.


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