Rip-off dentists face crackdown over fees for treatment that should be done free on the NHS
Fees in Britain are among the highest in EuropeMany let teeth rot because they cannot afford the work
23:07 GMT, 28 May 2012
Open wide: Dentists have been accused of duping patients into paying for treatment they could have for free on the NHS
Unscrupulous dentists face a crackdown amid evidence that patients are being duped into paying for private treatments which should be free on the NHS.
The Office of Fair Trading is today demanding an urgent and radical shake-up in the 5.73billion UK market.
As many as 500,000 people a year are being misled into paying for expensive private treatments that should be free under the NHS, the OFT said.
Research suggest fees in this country are among the highest in Europe, with a bill for a check-up running to as much as 124.
Many people struggle to find an NHS dentist at all while others are letting their teeth go to ruin because they cannot afford the work.
The OFT’s findings are a damning verdict on new contracts for dental services which were introduced by the Labour government in 2006.
Importantly, the watchdog said any qualified dentist should be allowed to offer NHS treatment, rather than the current closed shop where a group of contracted dentists provide services based on annual quotas.
This would allow individuals to choose their dentist from a wide field, so increasing competition.
The OFT also argues people should be able to make direct bookings with hygienists, rather than having to go through a dentist.
This would allow High Street chains such as Boots and Superdrug to offer cheap ‘walk-in’ services.
The watchdog is also concerned about the hard sell of expensive monthly dental plans by some practices which can be poor value.
Chief executive John Fingleton said: ‘Our study has raised significant concerns.
‘All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment.
‘We also unearthed evidence that some patients may be receiving deliberately inaccurate information about their entitlement to NHS dental treatment, and we expect to see robust action taken.’
Some 39 per cent of people who had been to the dentist in the past two years reported there were no leaflets or posters providing information on NHS charges.
More than eight in ten people who recently received a course of dental treatment did not receive a written plan spelling out what was to be done and the cost.
The OFT said: ‘We are particularly concerned to find that around 500,000 patients each year may be provided with inaccurate information by their dentist regarding their entitlement to receive particular dental treatments on the NHS, and as a result be required to pay more to receive private dental treatment.’
The OFT is also highly critical of the NHS and industry bodies for doing too little to weed out rogue dentists who mislead patients, are incompetent or overcharge.
Patients’ Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said: ‘Patients frequently tell us that they are not being given the information they need to make informed choices about their dentistry treatment.
They feel they are paying for treatment that may not have been necessary.
‘Dentists have been able to get away with unacceptable practice.’
The British Dental Association insisted most patients were ‘happy’.
Executive board director Dr Susie Sanderson said: ‘The delivery of effective dental care is all about good communication between dentists and patients.
That communication will not be enhanced by the OFT’s headline-grabbing approach to publicising this report.’
Labour’s controversial contracts resulted in thousands of dentists quitting the NHS, leaving many communities without a dentist.
They were blamed for an estimated one million people losing access to an NHS dentist between 2006 and 2008.
The Coalition last year launched pilots of a new dental contract, focused on improving children’s oral health.
Dentists will be paid for the number of patients they care for and the health results, rather than the number of courses of treatment performed.
Health minister Lord Howe said: ‘Denying patients care on the basis of misinformation is a very serious matter. Any dentist that does this risks breaching their contract and we would expect the local NHS to take action.’