UK Dentistry: Is Private Care Big (And Ethical) Business?

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As the marketplace slowly creeps into every aspect of our lives and privatisation runs rampant through publicly owned and state subsidised institutions, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for care professions to provide amazing services without considering the bottom line.

Take the NHS. Although its funding has ostensibly been ring-fenced by the current Conservative government, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has forced increasingly draconian measures on hospital staff to try to cut costs.

After calling for changes to junior doctors’ contracts, Hunt managed to cause the first nationwide strikes from junior doctors in 30 years, risking patient care and sending the media into a frenzy.

These strikes have proven that, although the care system can be put under the thumb of privatisation, it can’t be dismantled entirely without protest.

But one element of care services has been effectively privatised – dentistry, and nowadays it’s a bona fide business.

The BMJ Perspective

In 1996, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) wrote an article entitled Privatising the NHS: Dentistry Paves the Way.

The article stated, “NHS dentistry has already forged close links with the private sector. Strict curbs on NHS spending on dentistry have led to patients’ co-payments increasing steadily and to a rapid expansion of the private market.”

“Although the number of dentists in the general dental service of the NHS rose from under 15000 in 1979 to 19400 in March 1994, the number who are also registered with the three largest private dental insurance schemes has risen from none to about 7500 in the past 10 years.”

“These changes provide salutary lessons for other areas of health care.”

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Supporting NHS with banners

A Focus on Profits

In many ways, the BMJ was right. A study by Humphrey and Co, a NASDAL (National Association of Specialist Dental Accountants and Lawyers) firm, found that the average profits for a private dental firm amounted to around £124,086 in 2012/2013.

NHS dental services, meanwhile, operate on a three-tier pay scale, the most expensive of which will cost customers more than £200. Dentistry has become a big business, but it’s leading many dental surgeries to promote bad practice over quality care.

A Wasteful Business

The disposal of dental waste is one such example of this. Thanks to the proliferation of toxic waste by dentists, the need for expensive waste disposal can lead some practices to cut corners.

An amalgam separator, which separates many of the chemicals used for fillings, can be a pricy proposition, even when they’re purchased from a reputable provider. As such, the business side of waste has trumped the basic tenets of health and safety for some dental professionals.

According to Dentistry, an increasing number of dentists are being urged to recycle, but few are thanks to the increase in profits. And this is true across the board.

From a business perspective, setting up a dental practice is a sound move, but neglecting your duties of care will create an ethical dilemma that could see local authorities shut your doors.

The point? There are a thousand-and-one pitfalls when you try to place profit over care in business, so be careful where you tread.

Boris Dzhingarov is a business writer who investigates issues to craft great stories that readers love.