Patients 'not helped by dental shake-up'NHS reforms 'have not improved patient access'

19 October 2006

Patients are not benefiting from this year’s major shake-up of NHS dentistry, a medical body warned today.

The reforms, introduced in April, saw the introduction of a new dental contract which introduced a three-tier price system.

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.

But a survey of 649 dentists by the British Dental Association (BDA) found that more than half had not been seeing any more patients since the new contracts came in.

NHS work cut

Almost two thirds said they didn't expect to be able to see more patients in the future, while the survey also found that some dentists had cut the amount of NHS work they did as a result of the new contract, and that further cuts were likely in the future.

Earlier this month, official figures showed that more than 1,600 dentists in England quit the NHS within three months of the new contract being introduced.

Lester Ellman, Chair of the BDA's General Dental Practice Committee, said: ‘These figures paint a grim picture for the future of NHS dentistry.

‘The new contract is failing to achieve its aim of making access to NHS dentistry easier for patients.

‘The survey reflects anxiety and frustration among the dental profession and highlights the need for an urgent and thorough review of the impact that the government's reforms have had.’

'Distorted picture'

But Health Minister Rosie Winterton hit back at the claims: ‘This latest survey of dentists paints a distorted picture.

‘The reality is that NHS dentistry is expanding - PCTs are now commissioning more dental services than under the old contract.

‘There has been no shortage of dentists willing to expand their NHS work or establish new practices.’

However Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the BDA survey was desperate news for NHS dentistry while Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Sandra Gidley said it made a mockery out of the government's claims that its reforms would improve access to NHS dentistry.