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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 July, 2005, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Shake-up of NHS dentistry planned
dentist examining patient
The reforms will kick in April
Plans for a simpler system of charges to help improve access to NHS dentistry have been unveiled by the government.

Ministers propose three bands of charges, setting maximum prices for different levels of treatment.

Under the plans a general check-up would cost 15 and a filling 41. Treatment would cost a maximum of 183.

It is hoped the long-waited measures - already put back 12 months - will help address some of the long-standing problems with NHS dentistry.

Charging bands
Band 1: 15. Covers general check-up and preventative work, such as scaling and polishing
Band two: 41. Simple treatment such as fillings and extractions
Band 3: 183. More complex course of treatment such as crowns or dentures

They include plans for a new contract for dentists, which will see them paid for the overall service they provide to a patient, rather than for each separate treatment.

Latest figures show that half the population are not registered with a surgery.

There is also a shortfall of 1,800 dentists as many have been attracted into doing private work where they say they can spend more time with patients.

The average NHS dentists sees about 50 patients a day - twice the number private dentists do - as they are paid per treatment they carry out.

Many charges

Currently, there are over 400 different charges for dental work.

Patients, who can pay up to 384, often do not know what the total cost will be before they start treatment.

The cost of a check-up is currently 6, but ministers say the new 15 charge will cover a more comprehensive oral health assessment, which could include x-rays, scale and polish.

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence suggest most people do not need a six-monthly check-up. Some may only need to see a dentist once every 18 months.

Less confusing

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said the new system would be less confusing and boost oral health by providing more preventative advice.

"Many people complain that they don't understand their bills, and are confused over what is NHS and what is private treatment.

"The new dental charging system will enable dentists to give a simple answer to patients' question 'what is my NHS treatment going to cost?' and 'what treatment will I get for the money?'

"The new system is fairer for patients. Those with low treatment needs will attend less often, and patients with high treatment needs should find their NHS dental treatment cheaper."

Roger Goss, co-director of Patient Concern, was concerned about fees for basic care rising.

"If it costs more to go to see a dentists I do not think that will be conducive to good dental health. It is more likely to deter people going."

The British Dental Association said the current system was not working for either dentists or patients as there were too many different prices for treatment.

She said the new system needed to be more simple.

The proposals will be put out for a three month period of consultation.

Shadow Health Minister Andrew Murrison said: "To most people, a visit to the dentist is for a check-up and minor work such as fillings.

"The fact that these charges have doubled means that more people will pay more under Labour, which does little to encourage a preventative approach.

"Moreover, there is every danger that cheaper emergency care will replace the now expensive check-up."

Q&A: Dentist reforms
06 Jul 05 |  Health
Dentist contract plans put back
10 Jan 05 |  Health

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