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Thursday, October 8, 1998 Published at 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK


Drive to boost NHS dentistry

The government wants to boost NHS dentistry

Pilot schemes are to be set up to test new ways to provide dentistry services in the NHS.

Health minister Alan Milburn announced on Thursday that 15 schemes - including drop-in dental centres - would receive financial backing from the government.

Many of the pilot sites are in areas where patients have had difficulties getting access to a NHS dentist.

The pilots include:

  • A drop-in service so that patients do not need to be registered with an NHS dentist to assess care.

  • Combining the Community Dental Service - set up to provide care for patients with special needs - and Health Authority salaried dentists - employed as a temporary measure to overcome NHS shortages - to offer greater access to dental services in areas where it can be hard to find an NHS dentist.

  • New flexibility in the way dentists are paid in order to increase the numbers of patients registered.

  • Promoting dental hygiene in the community to raise the levels of oral health, particularly in children.

  • Developing better specialist services for patients, including orthodontics and minor oral surgery outside hospital.

[ image: Alan Milburn: committed to NHS denistry]
Alan Milburn: committed to NHS denistry
Announcing the pilots, Mr Milburn said: "The government is committed to NHS dentistry. I want to make sure that in every part of the country NHS dentistry is no longer an after-thought or an add-on service.

"It is encouraging to see the commitment to NHS dentistry being shown by the many dentists and other dental professionals involved in these pilots. They will provide patients with easier and faster access to integrated dental services."

Open mind

The British Dental Association issued a statement saying it had an "open mind" about the pilots.

The statement said: "They may work well for those practices that wish to deliver NHS care in a way that both suits their practice needs and tackles problems faced by their patients locally.

"However, working under an individually negotiated contract may not suit many practices with the resulting instability, loss of national benefits and the additional management and negotiating responsibilities."

Approximately 29m people now receive NHS dental care, down from a peak of approximately 31m in 1990. One in four patients are estimated to go private.

The BDA estimates that 75% of dentists spend three quarters of their time treating NHS patients. The rest spend a greater proportion of their time on private work.

Previously dentists spent an average of 91% of their time on NHS work.

The move away to the private sector was prompted by a 1992 government decision to cut dentists' fees by approximately seven per cent to prevent budgets being overspent.

New strategy

The government is due to announce later this year a strategy for tackling five challenges which ministers believe must be met if dentistry is to flourish into the next century. They are:

  • To reduce inequalities in oral health.

  • To improve the population's access to NHS dental services.

  • To play a part in providing more integrated health services to patients.

  • To guarantee the high quality of service patients expect.

  • To allow all members of the dental team to use their full potential to improve patients services.

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