For dental practices which have until now maintained an NHS contract, the decision to privatise is a big one. It might be tempting to close your eyes and take the plunge; our advice is to take as much time as you can to plan the transition. This is a big change and managing change, particularly amongst your team members, can be challenging.
As a business owner and leader, it is essential for you to have a vision for what your practice is trying to do, who and what you are trying to be, what it should look like and feel like to be both a patient and an employee. What changes will you make? Will you offer longer appointments, provide different treatments or new treatment packages? Will you change your branding, upgrade your website, introduce new uniforms for staff? How will you communicate to patients that NHS treatment will no longer be on offer?
There are people in the UK who regard NHS dental treatment as ‘a right’ and may object to your decision to relinquish your NHS contract. In fact, this cohort of patients will probably leave the practice and go elsewhere. This is fine. These patients may well come back once they realise that the service they have been getting from you cannot be matched elsewhere.
It’s worth honing your leadership skills to inspire your team to believe in a better future outside of the NHS. Your team will be on the frontline of this change and it’s essential that they communicate professionally and positively on your behalf. For your team to help you manage the transition, they need to be fully on board, fully trained and fully prepared. They will be dealing with patient enquiries, so they need to feel supported. They also need to feel confident that the practice will be a more rewarding place to work, supporting your vision because they believe in it.
We recommend regular staff meetings at which your staff have plenty of opportunity to ask questions. They should be encouraged to give their thoughts on how the practice can serve its patients better, so they are involved and motivated. You need to understand their concerns and show you are open to difficult questions and able to respond well. If your staff do not believe that the transition from NHS to private is the right decision for the practice and its patients, how are they going to communicate the value of the transition to your patients?
There will be some staff members with friends and family in the community who have got used to attending the practice for NHS treatment. Unless they fully understand the many reasons for converting, they may find it hard to explain the value of a private practice. It would be a failure of leadership to not give them every opportunity to explore, understand, and value the change. So, make sure you take time with all team members; they are your advocates in the community. Ultimately, there may be some staff who cannot or won’t be able to cope with the transition to a private practice, and you may have to gently help them to transition to a different workplace. It might be tough but there are plenty of private practices which showcase the rewards of a successful carefully planned conversion.