HBI Deals+Insights / News

An NHS bias could become a post-pandemic kick in the teeth for dentists

During the pandemic, we’ve had a lot of conversations with dental operators in the UK with NHS focussed businesses. Universally, they have been happy with their lot. “We’re getting paid in full” they told us – subject to a small clawback – “and we don’t have to see patients”.

Click here to see our dentistry sector reports and here to see the largest players by revenue in Europe in HBI Intelligence.

Pre pandemic, it was a different story with many bemoaning the tough targets they had to hit. For many months, however, the required UDA (units of dental activity) targets for NHS dentists have been cut – initially substantially – with payments largely unchanged. They had been getting money for (almost) nothing, emergency work aside, during the height of the pandemic, with a scaled return to status quo. This – for months – left the private skewed practices facing a clamour from its dentists for payments from money which simply wasn’t coming in. It was a good time to be an NHS dentist.

Now, however, the tide may be turning. We hear the private dental market is increasingly buoyant – while NHS patients may be showing some slowness to return. The shorter hours, increased freedom and better lifestyles means staff are attracted into practices with a private slant. And, crucially, the NHS is demanding an appropriate level of work for its publicly funded reimbursement. The M&A market is also inevitably hotting up too.

Suddenly, our privately-funded operator contacts are happy, while their NHS slanted colleagues are starting to grumble. Has the tide turned? Talking – off the record – to multiple contacts, we hear that though there was a hiccup in profits last year, it’s pretty much business as usual now for non-NHS dentists with a catchup period for missed appointments during Covid.

As the UK NHS turns its attention to getting enough bang for its buck for its public funding, the dental scales could be tipping away from it as operators find increasingly tougher targets increasingly hard to swallow.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to David Farbrother or call 0207 183 3779.