Bid for more NHS dentists 'may fail'

A GOVERNMENT effort to entice more dentists away from private work and into the NHS may fail, a group of experts in Suffolk has warned.New contracts to encourage dentists away from private work - currently more lucrative than NHS work - may not go far enough, they warn.

A GOVERNMENT effort to entice more dentists away from private work and into the NHS may fail, a group of experts in Suffolk has warned.

New contracts to encourage dentists away from private work - currently more lucrative than NHS work - may not go far enough, they warn.

There is a shake-up of dental provision nationwide, which aims to make it easier for people to gain access to NHS treatment.

Currently only 46.8% of people nationwide are registered with an NHS dentist while in Suffolk that figure is 53.5%.

There are still dentist practices in the county accepting new NHS patients but experts warn the continuing shift into private practice must be stemmed.

The Government's reform of NHS dentistry will start from April 2006 whereby primary care trusts will be given the responsibility of commissioning dentists to do work.

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Under the plans, dentists will be given a guaranteed income based on their historical income - approximately an average of £69,000 a year for three years - instead of being paid for each NHS treatment they carry out.

This will end the present system in which dentists have to carry out treatment to be paid - a system that led to criticism that some dentists were over-treating patients.

Suffolk County Council decided to set up a working party to examine the modernisation plan and its impact in the county.

Its report, which is due to be discussed at a meeting of the health overview and scrutiny committee on February 17, said: "The working party has concerns that the new GDS (General Dental Services) contract seems to offer little incentive to dentists to opt back into the NHS remuneration system.

"The working party acknowledges the value and robustness of the emergency care system presently delivered in Suffolk and accepts that the new GDS contract is likely to further improve access to emergency treatment for unregistered patients.

"However, the working party has concerns that however good an emergency service is, it does not compensate for continuing dental care nor offer education and promotion of oral health self-management.

"The working party accepts that Suffolk compares favourably against the national position and accepts that there are dental practices across Suffolk still accepting new NHS patients, but the continuing shift to private practice must be stemmed if Suffolk is to benefit from improved access to NHS continuing care."

It adds: "The working party feels that a significant amount of further negotiation relating to the new GDS and PDS (Personal Dentist Service) contract conditions must be had with Suffolk's dental practitioners. At present, the system and the possible impact of deregistration does not encourage dental practitioners to return to the NHS."

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said: "The decision to delay implementation of a new contract for dentists has no bearing on our progress towards ensuring that people can see a dentist. Neither does it delay dentists converting to new ways of working, a vital part of our effort to attract dentists into the NHS.

"All Primary Care Trusts have action plans in place to enable more patients to see an NHS dentist and we already have international recruits working in the hardest pressed areas, with more to come.

"There are over 3,500 dentists working in the new way and many more in the pipeline, and we will fund any dentist that wishes to move to this new way of working.

"The decision to implement the new contract by April 2006 was welcomed by the British Dental Association as a sensible move so that dentists and the NHS are properly prepared for the local commissioning of the service."

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