Regional Support Manager, Jayne Gibson recounts how an NHS dentist who was facing the prospect of having to close one of his two surgeries in Workington, Cumbria is now looking forward to making full use of his skills and developing his career as he settles into private practice.
Three years ago, when Anthony Davies took over Belvedere Dental Practice and Nook Street surgeries in Workington, his expectation was that he would continue to fulfil his large NHS contract while supporting a small list of private patients. However, as Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, said ‘Events, dear boy, events’ overtook him, and he found himself unable to recruit dentists and faced the real prospect of having to close one of his sites.
He had become another victim of the recruitment and retention crisis. He had an 80/20 split between NHS and private, with quite a big contract split between both sites. He’d been struggling with recruitment and retention for quite a while as West Cumbria is not the easiest of places to recruit, at the best of times. Then gradually over the last couple of years, he lost more and more dentists to private practice. Unfortunately, that was what ended up being the main thing that drove him towards leaving the NHS.
Difficulty recruiting for NHS work
Along with no responses to his ads for dentists to carry out NHS work, he was also facing increasing calls from his associates to make the move to private practice. Having already lost three associates in quick succession, he was forced to reconsider his business model. “I was facing losing more dentists, so we put some adverts out similar to those we’d been advertising for NHS, but for private positions this time,” he told me. “We managed to recruit three new dentists privately, which was the final nail in the coffin for the NHS element of things because we were clearly able to recruit privately. It just seemed like that was the way things were going. There was no appetite from associates to work in NHS dentistry.”
Ant decided to choose Practice Plan to help him through the transition from NHS to private practice. His choice had been based on personal recommendations, as he explained: “I spoke to a couple of other private practices locally, and they’d recommended Practice Plan highly. There were lots of recommendations for them online, as well.”
‘Practice Plan’s dedicated support was invaluable’
As his Regional Support Manager, I supported Ant every step of the way as he made the transition to private practice. During our initial conversation, I got to know his business thoroughly and helped him understand whether it was suitable for conversion. We sat down and talked through what Ant’s aims were and where we wanted to go. After our conversation, I completely understood the difficulties he was having and tried to present a way he could move forward. As he was stepping away from a large NHS contract, having a plan in place would give him a lot more security. The calculations we do demonstrated that to him. I used his data to work out what was needed in terms of patient numbers and so on. Doing this takes a lot of the guesswork out of what he wanted to do and, I hope, helped make the process a lot less frightening.
Having helped him establish whether converting to private practice was feasible for his business, I made sure I was around as he began the transition in May 2022. Ant tells me that this helped with settling people’s nerves, amongst other things. Obviously it’s a big change, which can be really scary, so part of my role is to be there to reassure and support everybody in whichever way they need it. This can be helping with practical things such as staff training on how to sign-up patients to the plan, and the patient journey side of the change, but I am also around for moral support, too. Ant also knows that I am not just going to disappear now and that he can call on me for help when he or his team need it.
Ant is extremely pleased with how the transition has gone, especially as the practice’s demographic is not typical of one that would attract private patients. Despite not being a textbook candidate for a conversion from NHS to private practice, he felt it was the right thing to do. As he told me: “You never really know how it’ll go until you do it. Because we’re in a relatively high need area, I would say people wouldn’t necessarily think it’s an obvious place to just open a private practice, but we’ve had a lot of uptake from patients. All the dentists hit the patient numbers they needed, and we’re still taking on for the new associates we’ve recruited. I couldn’t be happier with how the transition as gone”
Optimistic about the future
He’s also delighted at the change in the practice’s fortunes and has renewed confidence in its future. As he says: “When we started advertising for private dentists, we were at a point of probably having to close one of the practices because keeping it open was coming at a significant cost to us. It was an unfortunate and saddening position. But who would have thought back then that we’d be in the position of keeping both sites open, and still recruiting, and doing it all privately? It’s been a big change but a very positive one and having the dedicated support we’ve received from Practice Plan has really helped it all happen.”
‘The world is our oyster’
Ant’s now in a position where he’s able to spend more time with his patients and make full use of the skills he has as well as looking at developing new ones. He has the time now to plan how he can develop the business and help his colleagues progress their careers. He hopes to progress and allow his dentists to pursue some of their interests. is practice currently offers general dentistry and he’d like to continue that. However, his aim long term is to start to offer some more specialist treatments and encourage his associates to skill up and ultimately be able to have some of those specialties being offered within the practices as well.
He feels working in private practice will allow him the freedom needed to implement any new skills he and his colleagues acquire. “Working within the NHS system, you can go on lots of courses, and it can cost you quite a lot of money to do them,” he explained. “But then you find yourself in a position where you can’t realistically use them in your general day-to-day work, because the cost of materials or the time you’d need to spend to actually do it in the way that you’ve been taught to do it, is almost impossible to achieve. I think when you’re working away from those restrictions, the world’s your oyster. You can do what you want to do with it.”