Dentists are overcharging patients by up to £109 million a year, by calling them back too often and splitting up treatments, according to the Conservatives.
Analysis of appointments earlier this year suggested too many healthy patients were being recalled for check up and that treatments were being separated into separate courses, with separate costs. Calculations by the Conservatives suggest that the extra cost paid in patient charges last year was £109 million.
The figure is 23% of the £475 million overall that patients pay in dentist charges every year.
Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: ‘Labour’s management of NHS dentistry has been appalling. Not only have millions been left without a dentist, but now we learn that those who do have one are often being charged more money than they should be.
‘The blame here lies with Labour’s botched dental contract, which incentives dentists to increase the number of charges to patients and has led to such drastic cuts in the number of people being able to find an NHS dentist.
‘The Government urgently needs to admit that the dental contract has been a monumental failure, get a grip and put an end to these practices immediately. At the moment we’re all losing out – those who do have a dentist are paying wrongful charges and those who don’t are being blocked from finding one because there aren’t enough appointments left.’
Asking every Primary Care Trust (PCT) in the country how many patients had been called back to their dentist within 12 weeks, the Conservatives found that the average proportion across England was 18%.
Based on the average NHS patients pay for dental care, they calculate that the unnecessary cost was £109 million. However, the figure was disputed by the Department of Health.
Health Minister Ann Keen said: ‘The suggestion that patients are being overcharged by up to £109 million a year is ludicrous. The vast majority of these patients will have been called back for a genuine clinical need such as disease management or emergency treatment.
‘As we discovered earlier this year, only a small minority of dentists are recalling patients unnecessarily for treatment. In October, we helped local health authorities to identify these dentists and the NHS is working with local dentists to resolve the issue.
‘The new contract has made all NHS dentists accountable to their local Primary Care Trust for quality of care. This means that if a dentist recalls patients unnecessarily or charges too much, local health services are able to withhold his or her funding or terminate his or her contract.
‘This is one of the issues that will be investigated by the independent review team we appointed last week to advise how we can best work with the NHS to ensure good access and high quality of NHS dentistry across the country.’
Meanwhile, the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) advises patients not to be put off dental check-ups after the Tory claims.
The charity now warns politicians to concentrate on finding a solution to problems.
Foundation chief executive Dr Nigel Carter said: ‘A million fewer people are visiting the dentist since the new contracts came into effect four years ago. Clearly dentists are not targeting contracts for easy money.
‘The Government must address the issues, and the independent review is a start. The Opposition and the political elite should get behind this review and support a positive change.
‘Negative messages run the risk undermining Britain’s oral health. For nearly 40 years we have campaigned with the key message advising people to visit their dentist regularly – as often as they recommend.
‘It is vital to get regular check-ups from an expert. This is so important to dental health, its systemic links to overall health issues such as diabetes, and in checking for mouth cancer, which kills one person every five hours in the UK.’