My 40th birthday and a very significant date in the life of my practice. In the wake of the 1990 NHS contract and subsequent clawback of fees a group of dentists in Gloucestershire “held hands and jumped” to remove our dependence on the NHS. Several of us had things in common, we were of similar age, had big loans and couldn’t see how we could square the circle of carrying on providing our best for patients and continue to make a living.
With the assistance of the fledgling group, Gloucestershire Independent Dentists (GID) and supported by each other, in the words of Judith Cameron, we leapt and the net appeared. Some practices changed overnight, I was more cautious and transitioned over a 12 month period, giving all my adult, non-exempt, patients one last NHS course of treatment. This enabled me to have a conversation about the why, how, when and who of the changes. In those days Denplan was just about the only game in town and Gloucestershire became “Denplan county”.
I dreaded making the change, I anticipated wholesale rejection, arguments, insults and my hard work unravelling in minutes. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because I changed gradually, and every patient received a letter ahead of their next visit plus good PR from GID, the word had got round. I allowed time to talk to explain my motives and to offer alternatives. The overwhelming feeling was one of acceptance, some begrudging, some cancelled their appointments “on principle”, some disappeared and then reappeared. More patients that I expected just said, “I’m surprised it has taken you this long, you have been giving private service since you opened.”
Instead of it being a catastrophe it was a tiny bump in the road. At the same time I started studying with the Open University on their MBA course which was really useful but due to circumstances beyond my control I was never able to complete. I also enrolled with Dr Mike Wise’s year long restorative course which also made me raise my game.
So I found myself with a largely private practice. There was still a significant NHS commitment because of the number of children we had attracted, which took a lot of management but worked extremely well and became a model for others to follow.
Things were looking up, I had managed to get a mortgage after a couple of years of banks not wanting to touch me with a bargepole, had remarried and our son was born in early April.
Life was good and the challenges were under control. The work was no less hard but the road was looking smoother.