Saturday, 22 August 2020

The rising cost of private dentistry

So, dental practices have reopened but the prices have gone up.  Why?

We live in a very different world now compared to the start of 2020.  The country went into near hibernation for three months and dental practices were told to close their doors by the regulators.  Practices started reopening in June but many in the private sector are charging more than they were before and yet NHS practices still charge the same.  Why?

The first thing to remember is that, whilst practices have reopened, they are still very restricted in the way they operate.  In particular, two things have driven up costs:

  • The need to wear increased amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE), the majority of which is disposable and has to be replaced after each patient.
  • The need to leave surgeries empty for up to one hour (known as 'fallow') after treatment on a patient to enable any airborne particles produced during treatment to settle and be disinfected/
The additional costs of PPE are easy to understand but, in fact, the need for fallow time in surgeries has at least halved the income which a practice can make from that surgery.  To enable a dentist or hygienist to work continuously throughout the day, they now need two surgeries.

But why hasn't the NHS been similarly affected?  The short answer is that they have but, in their case, the government has confirmed that they will continue to receive the same level of government funding despite the considerable drop in the numbers of patients they are able to see.  With no government funding, private practices have no such safety net.

The reality is that private practices are currently only able to work at around 30-50% of their pre-lockdown capacity and this has had a commensurate effect on income.  Against that, overheads including rent, business rates (dental practices are not covered by the government concession) and all of the other costs of running a business have not reduced and some, like PPE provision have gone up.

So if you notice that your dentist's prices have increased, please understand that it's for no other reason than to keep the business stable before things fully return to normal.

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