What will the increase in NHS dentistry fees mean?

NHS dentistry
Michael Watson reviews the recent rise in NHS dentistry charges and the 1% pay rise

Could the increase in NHS dentistry fees cause dentists to look elsewhere to reach their UDA target, Michael Watson questions.

Two announcements concerning money were made last week.

The first was how little the increase in dentists’ net income would be next year.

The second was how much patients’ charges would increase, not only on 1 April this year but by the same amount (5%) in 2017.

The Review Body (DDRB) recommended that dental contractors (practice owners and corporates) should receive a 1% rise in their net pay next year.

That does not necessarily mean that contract values will rise by that amount, nor that associates’ UDA values will rise (as the DDRB’s recommendations do not apply to them).

The eventual contract increase, if any, will be decided after the Department of Health has consulted with the British Dental Association (BDA) on practice expenses.

Recommending pay increases

From 1994 to 2014 the DDRB used to apply a formula for estimating expenses, add it to the recommended net pay increase and arrive at a gross figure by which contract values would rise.

In abandoning any consideration of practice expenses, the Review Body is reverting to the situation that existed between 1971 and 1991, when it determined the net income dentists should earn.

Adding on expenses and converting the rise into a fee scale was a matter of genuine negotiation between the BDA and the Department of Health through a committee called the Dental Rates Study Group.

This year, as last, no such negotiation will take place, it will be a matter of the Department of Health telling the BDA and its contractors what they are going to get.

It will bear no relation to how practice expenses have increased and may rise next year.

The reason is that, even with the extra funding the Government has promised, the NHS is running seriously short of money, with a growing population and more of us ‘wrinklies’ surviving on expensive drugs and treatments.

And this must surely be the reason why patients will pay more for their care, band one is rising to £19.70 this year and £20.60 in 2017 and the maximum charge then at £244.30.

A cunning plan?

Of course the more money the Government raises in charges the less it has to spend on NHS dentistry, but could it be part of a more cunning plan?

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of the General Dental Practice Committee (GDPC) pointed out that ‘charges were first introduced in 1951 to limit demand for NHS dentistry, and that’s precisely what they do best.’

In which case either dentists cannot achieve their UDA target, have clawback and thus reduce spending.

Or they look for new patients to fill the gaps, especially among children and others exempt from charges, thus increasing the number of patients seen.

That may not be the intent, but it made me think a bit.

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