In this week’s blog, Sales Director Nigel Jones gives his insight into the uncertain nature of a new NHS dental contract.
Many things about the promised new contract remain unclear. For example: the structure – given the spin has shifted to the pilots testing elements of a contract rather than contract types, what will it actually look like? Access – with no more money but more time required per patient, how will practices cope with the massive changes to skill mix and potentially practice design that may be needed to maintain patient attendance numbers? Contract values – with the anticipated capitation basis of the new look system, how will the issue of smoothing the current variation in contract values be addressed and how will they assess and ensure value for money for the tax payer given the potential incentive for reduced activity? The implementation date – the talk is of ‘incremental changes’ and ‘a sophisticated transition’ but it’s not at all clear what that means or when it will begin, although given the Coalition Government’s early commitment to improving the dental contract, it seems something can be expected before the next election.
For those who have all or most of their eggs in the NHS England basket, this has to be a major cause of concern. Even for those only partly dependant on NHS England as a source of funding through, for example, a child-only contract, the fact that such a significant change might only be 18 months away needs some serious thought.
This is being reflected in the discussions with practices that I, and the rest of my team at Practice Plan, are starting to have in ever-increasing numbers. The advent of a New Year and the various NHS England roadshows currently underway, seem to have practice owners taking stock of their current situations and being provided with the resolve to begin investigating their options, so as to have an informed choice of direction when the full contractual details emerge.
Even some who believe they will have a viable future with the NHS are making tentative enquiries about the lessons learnt from other practices who have converted an NHS associate or a list of NHS children, just in case the reality of the new contract doesn’t live up to hope or expectation. Others, however, are convinced that whatever the finer detail, the financial pressures on the wider NHS mean the dental contract will be different degrees of unpalatable. They are therefore undertaking a thorough assessment of the risks involved in reducing their dependence on the NHS and already getting the ball rolling on considering ways of mitigating any risks identified.
Although it can be hard to think through what will happen this year, let alone 2015 or 2016, it’s reassuring that the need to begin some planning and preparation for the new contract is increasingly in the forefront of dentists’ minds that hold an NHS contract.
If you’re looking for more guidance on making the right decisions for your practice, why not take a look at our Resource Library, where you’ll find more interesting articles on strategy and planning by Nigel and other dentistry experts.