Dentists leaving NHSMore than 1,500 go following new contract

10 October 2006

NHS patients in a queue outside a dental practice.

NHS patients stand and wait outside a dental practice.

More than 1,500 dentists in England have quit the NHS following the government’s dentistry shake-up in April.

Government figures reveal that the number of dentists with a contract to work in the NHS fell from 21,111 to 19,462 between April and July this year.

That’s a decline of 1,649 or nearly 8 per cent in the first three three months after the new dentist contract was introduced.

Derek Watson, Chief Executive Officer of the Dental Practitioners Association, which represents high-street dentists, described the new dental contract as ‘inflexible, inefficient and unfair’.

He added: ‘We forecast it would make things worse and regrettably, it looks like we were right.’

Finding an NHS dentist

The new dentist contract saw the introduction of a three-tier price system. Treatments in the the lowest tier cost £15.50 in England. These are simple procedures such as check-ups and X-rays. NHS fillings come under the next tier and cost £42.40 while complex treatments such as crowns cost £189.

Under the contract, dentists are paid a lump sum for carrying out a set amount of work, rather than billing the NHS for each treatment – a situation which led to fears that dentists were over-treating patients.

Lester Ellman, Chairman of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said the loss of any dentist to the NHS had an impact.

‘This figure reflects the uncertainty felt by dentists and patients alike. Dentists are frustrated by the target-driven approach of the new contract, which fails to allow a more preventative approach to care.

‘Today's figures do not provide any evidence that the government reforms have achieved the aim of making it easier to find an NHS dentist.’

Expansion claim

But Rosie Winterton hit back and claimed that NHS dentistry was expanding – with primary care trusts now commissioning more services than under the old contract.

She added: ‘There is no shortage of dentists willing to come forward to expand their services or establish new practices. Many of the dentists who chose not to take up the new contract in April were not providing significant levels of NHS dentistry.

‘What matters is not so much the number of dentists, but the level of NHS service they provide.’