A dental sticking plaster solution?

One would have thought that health secretary, Andrew Lansley, had enough on his plate without stirring up controversy over the perennial problems of access to NHS dentistry.

He may not have meant to ‘practise to deceive’ when he put out a press release promising £28 million extra funding so that 120,000 more patients could access dentists.

No doubt his officials presented it to him as an unambiguous ‘good news’ story, in contrast to the battering he is receiving from all sides over his Health Bill.

The problem is that it raises more questions than it answers, although it may be unfair to say he is trying to deceive.

The funding will be given to Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), who will have bid for the cash to expand local services to meet patients’ needs.

They may provide more ‘appointments with NHS dentists’ and providing domiciliary services. The extra funding is part of the Government’s drive to improve oral health and increase access to NHS dentists.
It seems like a good idea, but perhaps too good to be true.

The money goes to PCTs, but in 14 months these will be no more. So you get the money to see more patients this year, but may not have the money to treat them next. It’s happened before and may well happen again – a sticking plaster solution indeed.
£28 million to bring in 180,000 new patient works out at £155 a patient, a sizeable sum which equates to about seven UDAs (Units of Dental Activity). The PCTs must have put in a good bid for this money. But will it do the trick?
All the PCTs can do is commission UDAs or services such as domiciliaries. Added to that is the high level of patents’ charges which has hit demand for NHS dentistry. Reports from Sussex and elsewhere claim that practices are having problems attracting NHS patients.
So what happens when the dentist misses the unrealistic targets set by the PCT, fails to deliver the extra UDAs that have been commissioned. Clawback is what happens, something that will bring a smile to a hard-pressed finance director faced with a cash deficit.

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