16/07/2004

Government announces overhaul of dental care

The Government has pledged to invest an extra £368m in NHS Dentistry in England in an attempt to improve public access to dental care.

The move, hailed as the biggest overhaul of the NHS Dentistry system since 1948, could see prices double in an attempt to lure more dentists back to the NHS sector. However, the new plans also include a cap on the most expensive treatments, which will see patients pay no more than £120.

The system of how dentists are paid will also be reformed, with dentists given a three-year income guarantee from April 2005, following the handover of dental service commissioning to primary care trusts. Practitioners will also be recruited from abroad, with the relaxation of rules regarding the registration of dentists from the EU who enter into practice in England.

The Government has also promised to fund more dental school training places, starting from October 2005.

It is hoped that the shake-up will improve the level of preventative care amongst children and adults in England – and banish the sight of hundreds of people queuing to register with an NHS practice.

Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats in 2002 suggested that 48% of people living in England were not registered with an NHS dentist, with rural areas showing the worst levels of access. Official figures released that same year also showed that four in ten dental practices were refusing to take on any new NHS patients.

Commenting on today's announcement, Dr John Renshaw, chair of the British Dental Association's Executive Board, said: "At long last the government has begun to take notice of the queues and the distress of the tens of thousands of people without access to an NHS dentist.

"It's not that dentists have been walking away from the NHS, more that the NHS has been walking away from dentistry. Today's announcement marks a positive first step on the long walk back."

(CL)

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'Postcode lottery' remains in NHS dental care
There are "huge regional variations" in NHS dental care in England, consumer organisation Which? has warned in new research. The survey of 466 dentistry practices - which comes a year after the start of new NHS dentists' contract in England - found that just over a third (36%) are taking on any new NHS patients.