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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK


Plans for mobile dental clinics

Patients and doctors think dental charges are unfair

The government's dental strategy will provide mobile and drop-in clinics for people who do not have a regular dentist, health minister John Denham has told the BBC.

John Denham: we want to improve access to NHS dentists
Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Denham said the strategy aimed to improve access to NHS dentistry.

But he cautioned that targets would have to be "realistic".

He claimed that increased investment in NHS dentistry, since the government came into power, had meant there were 650,000 new patients registered with an NHS dentist.

But dentists say this is misleading.

Two million fewer patients

Dr Anthony Kravitz, chairman of the British Dental Association's (BDA) general dental services committee, said it was true that 650,000 places had been made available.

However, these were equivalent to the number of patients who had lost out because their dentists had pulled out of NHS schemes.

In order to continue receiving NHS dentistry, these patients had had to register with another dentist, he said.

The BDA estimates that there are now two million fewer adults registered with a dentist than there were when Labour came into power.

Mr Denham claimed this was because a downward trend begun under the Conservatives had taken some time to stabilise.

The BDA welcomes the idea of using mobile clinics to reach places where it is not cost effective to have a full-time dental clinic, such as in rural areas.

But Dr Kravitz said there were fears that the drop-in clinics would be used to provide cheap services without continuing care.

"The best way of solving the problem of access to NHS dentistry would be to support existing NHS dentists," he said.

He added that drop-in clinics could be used to help bring people back to the dentist.

For example, they could be based in a dental practice for about an hour a day and patients could be given information about the importance of routine check-ups and how to access an NHS dentist.

Longer opening hours

The BBC Niall Dickson on the NHS dentistry crisis
However, the BDA, which began its annual conference in Torbay on Friday, has published a survey showing that patients want longer opening hours in dental practices amd more help for people who are afraid to the dentist.

According to the BDA, four in 10 people do not go to the dentist regularly.

The number has increased dramatically since the abolition of free dental check-ups.

The survey of patients and doctors found that most are against the current system of dental charges, with young people most likely to drop out of the system once they lose eligibility to free dental care.

NHS patients currently pay 80% of dental charges with the government paying 20%.

[ image: John Denham: the government wants a more flexible service]
John Denham: the government wants a more flexible service
Those polled in the independent survey said they would prefer a 50/50 split.

They identified increasing national insurance contributions as the best way to pay for the changes.

Many did not understand the forms for claiming reductions in charges. The BDA is advising its members of how they can explain these to patients.

It wants the government to introduce "a fairer system" of identifying families on low incomes who can be helped with dental charges.

This could include giving patients a way of paying for dental treatment over a few weeks or months without the financial viability of the dental practice being threatened.

The maximum charge for a course of dental treatment on the NHS is £348.

Those surveyed also called for a more comprehensive NHS emergency dental service.

The BDA says that in some areas where registering for an NHS dentist is not a problem, the emergency dental service was not good and access was not fast enough.

It wants the government to provide more funding for emergency treatment.

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