In 2013, Luisa Dalla Riva, Practice Manager, and Andy Berwick, Principal Dentist, became the owners of Market Place Dentistry in Thirsk. The practice has been offering both NHS and private treatment, but the couple have now handed back their NHS contract and will be fully private from March 2021.
Fliss McCalmont, Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan, spoke to Luisa to find out more about why they are making the change to fully private, the impact of COVID-19 on this decision and why she already feels ‘less stressed’…
Fliss: Why have you decided to leave the NHS?
Luisa: There are a few reasons. Targets are a big issue; it really isn’t a good way of delivering healthcare. Clinicians will always try to make the best decisions for their patients, but they’re constrained by needing to meet targets.
I feel the NHS system is punitive and it’s such a shame that all of those dentists working in the system spend so many years training and genuinely want to do the best for their patients, only to not be treated like professionals by those in charge.
Another reason is that we want to spend more time with our patients, which we don’t feel we can do at the moment and still make it work from a financial perspective.
We are really focused on prevention and encourage our patients to see the hygienist because we want them to benefit from that care. Under the NHS system, you can only have a hygienist appointment if you have a certain level of gum problems, but we want all our patients to regularly visit the hygienist, so it doesn’t get to that stage.
Plus, you have the administrative burden of the NHS which is at such a level that it often feels like those running the system don’t trust you. This is really demoralising when everyone is working so hard. And that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
Fliss: Did the experience of running a practice during the pandemic impact your decision to go fully private?
Luisa: COVID-19 introduced so many changes to the way we were working anyway, that moving away from the NHS didn’t feel like so much of a massive step. It seemed like the right time to make a clean break.
We don’t know what the NHS is going to pay practices for 2020; there are lots of permutations, terms and clauses, and that makes it really difficult to plan ahead and understand how much money you have to be able to pay staff and finance your business.
That lack of transparency and not knowing what will happen with the contract did help us to make our minds up.
Fliss: Did you have any concerns about making the move away from NHS dentistry?
Luisa: I was concerned about the patients. We’ve been here at the practice for seven years and we’ve got to know them – we didn’t want them to leave or feel like we were abandoning them.
And we have had a few patients feel like that, but we expected it and we have to face facts that a few will feel that way.
Because we have a small NHS contract, we’ve treated our NHS patients the same as our private patients in a lot of ways – they share the same nice waiting room, they see the same clinician every time, etc. So, we have to try to now educate all our patients about the value of healthcare and seeing the dentist.
Fliss: How did you overcome those concerns?
Luisa: During COVID-19, lots of people realised they needed a dentist and either didn’t have one, or couldn’t see them. Plus, there have been a lot of new housing developments in our local area recently. As a result, we have a waiting list of new private patients, so that side of things wasn’t an issue.
But while we didn’t want our NHS patients to feel let down, we had to believe in ourselves and the reason we are making this decision, because we know that it’s the best thing for our practice and our patients.
It also helps to have the membership plan in place because it’s a great way for people to transition over from the NHS to private. Some patients assume going private automatically means paying big lump sums, so telling them there is an option to pay a small monthly fee can help to allay those concerns.
I was really pleased with the letter Practice Plan helped us put together to tell patients about what we’re doing and the options that they now have.
Fliss: What are you expecting to happen when you actually leave the NHS in March?
Luisa: I’m definitely expecting to feel less stressed. In fact, I already do feel less stressed, even though I know there are still a few more steps to go through – I feel like I’ve been freed.
I think that there will be more time available to spend training staff, looking at the whole patient journey, and I think the dentists will definitely be happier.
I also think the patients will be more motivated to look after their teeth and really value the time spent with their dentist or hygienist, because we know that when our patients pay privately for their treatment that’s what tends to happen. One of the issues with the NHS is that because people pay very little, or nothing, for treatment they, understandably, don’t necessarily value it as much.
I’m also expecting fewer Fail to Attends (FTAS) and I think the business will be financially better off because we know we will no longer be subsidising our NHS patients.
Fliss: Sounds like there’s a lot to look forward to! Thank you, Luisa, for sharing your story with us.
If you’re considering a move away from NHS dentistry, visit our NHS page to hear more from others who have already done it and how we can support you to make it a success.
Fliss McCalmont has been a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, for 18 years and before that was a Practice Manager for 10 years. Practice Plan has helped hundreds of dentists make a successful move to private dentistry. If you’re looking for more independence or freedom from the NHS and a more fulfilling and rewarding future, call 01691 684165 or visit practiceplan.co.uk