The OFT rolls out the red carpet to new entrants

“The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is in the process of rolling out the red carpet to new entrants for the provision of dentistry. Is the OFT involvement justified and how will it impact your business?

On 15 September, the OFT announced a study on the “competitive” and “openness” nature of dentistry in the UK.
Specifically, the announcement spoke of examining:

  • How dentistry services are sold
  • Whether patients are given appropriate information to help them choose between dental practices
  • The types of treatments on offer and different payment methods in the context of both NHS and private dentistry
  • How easy it is to change dentists
  • Whether the current system for customer redress works

In addition, and particularly the OFT will look at barriers to entry.

Justified?

The OFT sited supposed concerns raided by consumer bodies and magazines. Whatever spin OFT put on it, the grounds for the study are probably more to do with the observations of the high pay and profits seemingly extracted by dentists. On those grounds you’d have to say, justified and actually ask how come it took so long coming.

A Wider Desire?

No doubt about it, there is a desire and a will to liberalise the dental market – to bring unit costs down. Perhaps, the cynics would argue, even a desire for the state to shed a good deal of responsibility for dental treatment of the nation’s citizens – take dentistry off the “medicine” pedestal and put it more akin to how opticians or pharmacists ply their trade.

Interestingly enough the OFT statement was at pains to point out the overall size of the dental market – c
£7 billion, growing to £8 billion soon! Now this is not that well known. Indeed, to get this kind of measure, cBPE researchers have had to resort to purchasing one of those expensively priced market studies. The inclusion of this kind statistic is a deliberate and measured invitation to current non-dentist (corporate) bodies to enter the market

Impact on your business

More competition means lower prices and less profit for many, but a massive opportunity for some. cBPE client businesses are positioning themselves to be able to thrive in this challenging environment.

Our View: The OFT announcement is but a barometer of what is to come and dentists would do well to focus on getting their business models right than misdirect creative energies on the OFT, no matter how unwelcome they feel OFT special attention is.