Complaints about NHS dental treatment are on the rise and there is widespread confusion about access to dentists, a report said today.
A survey of primary care trusts (PCTs) found widespread problems following the introduction of a new dental contract in 2006.
The Patients Association sent questionnaires to the chairmen and dental commissioners of 150 PCTs in England and received 112 replies.
‘Lack of funds’
The report – The New Dental Contract – Full of Holes and Causing Pain? – found problems with funding, prevention work and patient experiences.
It said: ‘PCTs complain there is widespread lack of funds for orthodontics and other specialist treatments and cite this funding gap as the reason for not implementing best practice.
‘There is increasing concern for the preventive role of dentistry in detection of oral health disease.’
Patients were found to be ‘confused about the new contract, new charges and NHS availability’.
The report said: ‘Despite regulations requiring information to be available, they remain confused about the new contract, the charges they are expected to pay and how to access regular (as opposed to emergency) care.
‘This is a fundamental change in their relationship with ‘their’ dentist which has not been explained to them.’
The report found that complaints had risen, with over half of PCTs admitting an increase in the number of complaints. Of these, 60% were about charges, 37.6% about access and 28.2% directly about orthodontics, the study said.
The report comes a day after the government announced new NHS training places would be made available to dentistry graduates in areas of the highest patient need.
The initial 40 extra training places coming in next year will be located in Yorkshire, the North West, the South West and the South Central areas.
The Patients Association report said there was ‘an unacceptably variable service depending on the PCT commissioning the services’ which represented ‘another glaring example of the NHS postcode lottery’.
It added: ‘Patients are at risk of inadequate care because UDAs – units of dental activity – rather than patient need is being funded.’
The group wants the government to take action in several areas, including giving patients the same level of preventative care ‘as is now planned for other specialties’ to detect problems such as mouth cancer.
It also said weak commissioning by some PCTs resulted in a postcode lottery for patients and argued that strong commissioners should take over the commissioning role of weak PCTs.
Lester Ellman, chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said there was too much focus on outcomes rather than overall care.
Learn how to make a complaint about dental treatment with our guide.
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