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​Dentists call on National Audit Office to investigate huge hikes in NHS patient charges

5 June 2019


Local Dental Committees (LDCs) from across the country will urge the National Audit Office to investigate the exorbitant hikes in NHS patient dental charges in England – 20% in the past four years – at the annual gathering of dentists in Birmingham on 6-7 June. Dentists will accuse the government of imposing a 'stealth' tax on the 'just about managing', and will question why an NHS dental examination in England costs 58% more than the same procedure in Wales.


On 1 April NHS dental patient charges in England rose by 5%. Since 2010 nearly £550 million in government contributions have been cut from NHS dental budgets, with the difference plugged by inflation-busting hikes in patient charges. As a simple substitute for state investment charge increases do nothing to improve access, or address growing recruitment and retention problems plaguing the service. Last year official data revealed a million new patients across England tried and failed to secure an NHS appointment. BDA surveys have indicated 75% of NHS practices in England struggled to fill vacancies. 


Delegates at the LDC Conference will also debate a motion on whether the NHS should act as an insurance policy for those who develop complications following a trip abroad for dental treatment.


Stress and burnout among dentists, and a refocus of how the Care Quality Commission inspects dental practices will feature in the 30+ motions due to be debated at the dental leaders' conference.


Dentists will hear how a much-criticised dental contract, imposed on the profession in 2006, has failed to increase patient access, as promoted by successive Governments. Leading health economist Stephen Tidman will outline that this is a consequence of a cash-limited dental budget in England, and increasing reliance on patient charges. 


Vijay Sudra, Chair of this year's Local Dental Committees Conference, said:


"Dentists have had enough of charge hikes being used as cover for cuts. We're not tax collectors, and our patients shouldn't have to pay more just so Ministers can pay less.


"This conference has long been the forum for national debate about the issues that impact on the delivery of NHS dentistry. We will hear first-hand accounts from NHS dentists up and down the country. They will speak about the realities of delivering care while government squeezes the budget for this service until the pips squeak."


BDA chair Mick Armstrong said:


"Dentists are putting the interests of their patients first.


"We expect ministers to take heed. The debates taking place in Birmingham will shape the future of this profession and this service."


Local Dental Committees 

There are approximately 110 Local Dental Committees (LDCs) in the UK. These were set up in 1948 at the inception of the NHS. In England and Wales, provision in statute has been made for them to be recognised and consulted since the NHS Act 1977. Local NHS representatives may consult with LDCs on any matters of local dental interest.