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​Dentists slam wrongheaded NHS charge hike in middle of pandemic

23 November 2020

 

The British Dental Association (BDA) has slammed the latest inflation-busting 5% increase in NHS dental charges in England announced today, accusing government of erecting further barriers to care during the COVID pandemic, when services remain so limited and focused on dealing with an unprecedented backlog. The hike means:

 

  • A routine check-up will increase by £1.10  from £22.70 to £23.80
  • Treatments such as root canals or removing teeth will rise by £3.10 from £62.10 to £65.20
  • More complex procedures like crowns, dentures and bridges rise from by £13.50 from £269.30 to £282.80.

The fee increase, originally slated for 1 April, was postponed by the first wave of the pandemic, will now take effect from 14 December 2020.
 
The BDA estimates over 19 million appointments have been delayed since lockdown. The BDA has long warned that costs are a major barrier to patients, even among those who are entitled to free care. Analysis of data from the government’s GP Survey indicates over 700,000 people had avoided seeking NHS treatment for reason of cost. The Adult Oral Health Survey has found that for 26% of the public cost had influenced the type of dental treatment they had opted to have and 19% had delayed dental treatment due to cost.

 

Dentist leaders have accused Ministers of using inflation-busting increases to try and plug the hole in the service’s shrinking budget. Since lockdown the Treasury has lost nearly £400 million from the charges that are increasingly relied upon to fund services in England, with around £50m in revenues now being lost per month. The BDA has already called on government to provide capital funding for ventilation equipment that could enable practices to massively expand access, by reducing the gaps dentists are mandated to keep between treatments, which remain the number one barrier to capacity. The BDA estimate any investment would pay for itself by helping restore patient numbers closer to pre-COVID levels.

 

Dentistry is the only part of the NHS operating on a lower budget than it received in 2010, with no effort made to keep pace with the cost of living or population growth.  Prior to the pandemic real terms net government contributions have fallen by over £650 million since 2010, while charge levels have increased by over 40% to plug the gap.  In Wales fees have increased by around just 13% in the same period.

 

Dave Cottam, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice said:

 

“Slapping higher charges on patients struggling to secure care in the middle of a pandemic is utterly wrongheaded. This inflation-busting hike won’t put an extra penny into a service in crisis or help millions currently unable to get an appointment.

 

“We’ve appealed to government for support to bring down the backlogs. Sadly, this short-sighted approach will only give lower income, higher risk patients more reasons not to attend.

 

“Dentists are health professionals not tax collectors. These charges have ceased to be a ‘contribution’ and are now simply a substitute for decent state investment.”