Many NHS dental patients are being forced to go private, refusing treatment due to high costs or ‘doing it themselves’, according to a damning new study.
Almost 20% of those questioned in the biggest dentistry patient survey of its kind revealed that they had missed out on dental work they needed because of the cost.
The survey of more than 5,000 patients in England also found that 6% had resorted to treating themselves, including extracting their own teeth, because they could not find a dentist.
The Dentistry Watch survey also found that 78% of private dental patients left the NHS because either their dentist stopped treating NHS patients, or because they could not find an NHS dentist.
However of the patients that did receive NHS treatment, 93% were happy with the treatment provided.
The survey also questioned 750 dentists and found 45% are not accepting any more NHS patients, while 58% believed that the quality of care that patients receive had got worse since the new dental contracts were introduced.
Many dentists also reported unhappiness with the new contract claiming that it offered them no incentive to take on new patients, was too target driven and penalised those who needed treatment the most.
Under the contract, which was introduced in April 2006, dentists are paid a lump sum for carrying out a set amount of work, rather than billing the NHS for each treatment.
‘Confusing and expensive’
The research was carried out by the members of England’s Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Forums – special feedback bodies covering every NHS trust in the country.
Sharon Grant, Chair of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health (CPPIH), which set up the forums, said: ‘These findings indicate that the NHS dental system is letting many patients down very badly. It appears many are being forced to go private because they don’t want to lose their current trusted and respected dentist or because they just can’t find a local NHS dentist.
‘Where NHS dental services are available, people are happy with the quality of treatment provided but many find the NHS fee system confusing and expensive, with some patients taking out loans to pay for treatment or more worryingly taking matters into their own hands.’
Health Minister Ben Bradshaw told GMTV that it was a ‘myth’ that everyone used to be able to get free dental treatment on the NHS.
He added: ‘At its very highest it was 60% in this country, now it’s 56%. We have always paid for dental care, even on the NHS.’
Free for some
Mr Bradshaw said people in urgent need should always be able to get NHS treatment but it would be free only for some people, such as children, those on benefits and pregnant women.
He added that the Labour government had increased the number of NHS dentists since 1997 and brought down the cost of complex treatment for patients.
‘I accept that finding an NHS dentist for some people in some areas is a problem,’ he said.
‘Anyone who can’t get to see an NHS dentist should contact their local primary care trust and get on a list to see one.’