Warning over NHS dentist shortage

MAJOR reforms of NHS dentistry will make it impossible to find treatment on the NHS next year, it has been warned.Many dentists in Suffolk are believed to be ready to reject new NHS contracts because of the excessive workload and “lower” fees on offer, forcing their patients to go private for treatment.

By Jonathan Barnes

MAJOR reforms of NHS dentistry will make it impossible to find treatment on the NHS next year, it has been warned.

Many dentists in Suffolk are believed to be ready to reject new NHS contracts because of the excessive workload and “lower” fees on offer, forcing their patients to go private for treatment.

The Government is introducing new contracts in April, giving Primary Care Trusts the responsibility to allocate payments to dentists and guaranteeing a level of payment to dentists for three years.


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But dentists' leaders have dismissed the reforms as “a missed opportunity” and said more practitioners would switch wholly to private schemes.

An EADT survey found 84% of dentists in Suffolk are not longer accepting charge-paying adults on the NHS.

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And many are now believed to be stopping NHS treatment altogether after April because of the reforms, switching to Denplan payment plans or other private schemes.

That means their patients will pay a monthly amount for dental cover rather than one-off payments after each course of NHS treatment.

Last night, Tim Yeo, former shadow health secretary and Conservative MP for Suffolk South, said large numbers of people would be squeezed out of NHS treatment.

“It's hard enough already to find an NHS dentist in Suffolk, but it will become completely impossible after these reforms,” he said.

“The Government hasn't been honest about it. They have tried to claim everyone will have access to an NHS dentist, put their policy is leading in a completely different direction.

“Dentists are doing exactly what you would expect them to do. It will be a big burden for families, and as usual it will be those on low incomes who will find it really tough.”

Dr Tom Norfolk, Suffolk spokesman for the British Dental Association (BDA), said: “There is nothing inspiring about the reforms and no flexibility in the pay structures.

“Whenever details have come out from the Government, it has always been the worst case scenario for us.

“Many dentists have had enough and can't see anything in the new contracts to keep them going in the NHS. There are deep concerns, unhappiness and frustration that an opportunity has been missed.

“Less are being able to offer treatment on the NHS and this will continue to become obvious in the next year or so as dentists do more private work.

“There is a lot of sadness about the situation, particularly from older dentists who have been treating the same group of patients for 30 years.”

Lester Ellman, chair of BDA's General Dental Practice Committee, said: “The Government's proposals for NHS dentistry add up to a wasted opportunity and will do nothing to solve the problems experienced by many people who struggle to find an NHS dentist.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “A new contract is to be introduced in April 2006 to improve NHS dentistry in the future and which will encourage less intervention and a more preventative and oral health promotion focus.

“The contract will allow Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to commission services from practices in ways that best meet the needs of local populations and allow both patients and NHS dentists to benefit from new ways of working.

“Dentists' income, uprated to 2006-7 prices, will be guaranteed for three years, with them having to carry out 5% less courses of treatment. This will give dentists more time with their patients and allow them to plan ahead financially.”

jonathan.barnes@eadt.co.uk

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