Honeyed words conceal distrust

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched a new campaign, ‘Right to smile’, to help patients understand more about their rights when visiting the dentist.

The honeyed words are their acknowledgement that the ‘majority of patients are satisfied with their dentist’.

The deep distrust shows as it lumps dentists in with used car salesmen, doorstep callers and loan sharks and other suspicious traders.

The OFT tells patients they are entitled to ‘a wide range of treatment that you need to get your mouth, teeth and gums as healthy and pain free as possible'.

Also ‘if your NHS dentist says you need a particular type of treatment, you shouldn't be required to pay for it privately’.

Patients should only pay one charge for each complete course of NHS treatment and should an NHS treatment fail within 12 months, ‘your dentist should repair or redo it free of charge’.

At face value, this is just a restatement of the contract regulations.

But who decides whether a treatment is ‘needed’? Where does it say which treatments can be offered privately, or how long a course of treatment lasts?

The regulations are silent, confused or ambiguous. But, instead of blaming the Department of Health for this confusion, the OFT, with its distrust of the profession, blames the dentist.

No wonder the chief dental officer for England, Barry Cockcroft, and minister, Lord Howe both welcome and support this campaign. It absolves them from any blame.

What is more surprising is the strong endorsement it has had from the British Dental Association (BDA). It is backing the campaign ‘that aims to ensure that dental patients fully understand their rights and entitlements'.

But the BDA knows, or should know, that patients’ ‘rights and entitlements’ are a confused mess. It would be better use of their time to bring pressure on the Department of Health to bring some clarity to the contract.

As it stands, this campaign is a licence for every ‘I know my rights’ patient, every patient compensation lawyer and every jobsworth NHS manager, to put more pressure on stressed dentists. Just whose side is the BDA on?


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