Who’s to blame for the confusion over NHS dental charges?

It isn’t the government’s fault that parents don’t realise children’s dental treatment is free, Michael Watson says.

Last week the BDA issued a press release calling for a shake-up in patients’ charges.

It said there was confusion over exemptions keeping children and vulnerable patients from receiving support with treatment.

In addition, over 50,000 fines were being issued a year for misclaiming free dentistry, but with 90% of appeals against these being won.

Free dental treatment

A Yougov poll had found that many people did not realise that dental treatment was free for those under 18.

Most parents are aware that routine check-ups are free for their children, but a quarter (26%) were not.

Although the survey did not mention this, it seems likely to me that these parents are among the 30+% who do not seek regular dental care, but who have the worst teeth and arguably need it most.

The BDA blames this on ‘poor promotion and signposting of charge exemptions’, but I am sceptical.

Blaming the government

The BDA has also called on government to end the ‘confusion by design’ that’s helping keep young and vulnerable patients away from their right to free NHS dentistry.

It blames the government, accusing it of failing to promote free access, and of using heavy handed tactics through the £100 penalty fines levied on those ‘inappropriately’ claiming access.

It is easy to blame the government for everything, indeed it is a ‘national sport’ in many countries – a hallmark of democracy one might say.

But shouldn’t we as dentists ask whether we bear some responsibility.

One of the differences between GPs and ourselves is that they have an obligation to treat anyone registered with them and everyone is entitled to be on a doctor’s list.

These conditions do not apply to dentists, who can largely pick and choose who they see.

I cannot see this freedom lasting the introduction of a new dental contract.

Dental check-ups

At a recent meeting in Bradford City Hall, Rory Deighton, from Healthwatch Kirklees, said one way of relieving pressure for NHS spaces could be to change the regularity at which patients were asked to go to their dentist for a check-up, on average every 7.8 months.

He suggested that this could be extended to every 12 months, freeing up spaces in practices.

He said: ‘I can’t think of anywhere else where people with the best health take priority over people with the poorest,’ – quite.

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