25 Mar 2019  •  Blog, NHS  •  4min read By  • John Clarke

Why the numbers are adding up for private practice owners

The British Dental Industry Association’s (BDIA) recently published *Spotlight 2018 research has revealed an apparent sea change in attitudes towards NHS and private dentistry over the last decade. The BDIA’s survey, which examines the split between NHS and private dentists, proportion of dental spend and buying behaviours, highlights some significant trends which could accelerate when the new NHS general dental services contract is rolled out from April 2020.

While the number of NHS high street dentists has risen to 28,730, an increase of 0.2% in the UK, private high street dentists were estimated to be at 5,450, up 44% on 2008/09 when first estimated. Encouragingly, the Spotlight 2018 edition does reference goodwill statistics compiled by **NASDAL which indicate that profitability for NHS practice owners has increased by 4.4% to £136,315 and by 6.7% to £138,479 for purely private practice owners in the past year.

Life away from the NHS

The BDIA’s research offers evidence as to why more dental practitioners are contemplating turning their backs on the NHS. In England, greater numbers of NHS practice owners are facing clawback penalties and handing back NHS contracts because they are struggling to make them work. This is further compounded by rising cost pressures and mounting workloads due to the difficulties in recruiting associates.

According to the BDIA, the size of labour costs (employees, associates and hygienists) have increased 0.6 percentage points to 61% for NHS high street practices compared to 1.3% percentage points to 49.1% for private owners. Although the gap is shrinking, private owners still experience fewer labour costs because they typically have a lower reliance on employing associates.

More practice owners want control

There are various benefits to owning your own dental practice but arguably the biggest driver is it allows you to take control over your own destiny. More dentists appear to be swapping their dependency on the NHS to explore fulfilling opportunities in private dentistry, where they can devote more time to their patients, help overcome cosmetic as well as pain-related issues and enjoy more personal and professional enjoyment of life.

Figures published in Spotlight 2018 show that there has been a 32% increase in purely private practices since 2009. Furthermore, the BDIA’s findings demonstrate that although NHS spend as a proportion peaked at 52% in 2012/13 it has now fallen to under 44%. This coincides with a greater shift towards private work which has resulted in UK gross spend on private dentistry rising 6.3% to £4.416m in contrast to spend on NHS high street dentistry reducing by 0.8% to £3.428m.

NHS, private or mixed?

The BDIA’s Spotlight 2018 publication offers some comfort for existing and prospective private practice owners. But with NASDAL’s latest survey for the quarter ending 31 October 2018 stating that the average goodwill value for NHS sales is 177% of gross fees (compared to mixed practices and private practices at 108% and 104% of gross fees respectively), it’s unsurprising that dental sales agents still experience high demand for NHS practices situated in major cities.

The numbers are adding up for private dentists, but statistics can’t predict the future, and no one knows you better than yourself. If you are contemplating buying a practice, make sure you speak to specialist dental accountants and financial providers who possess a thorough understanding of the market and can help you weigh up which options are best for you.

*BDIA Spotlight 2018 – Spotlight is the BDIA’s flagship statistics publication


** NASDAL Goodwill Survey – Greater Private Equity interest – January 2019


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