The Dentist Magazine.

Dentists call for charges shake up

Published: 24/04/2017

Children and vulnerable patients risk losing out on access to free NHS dental treatment because of poor promotion and signposting of charge exemptions, says the British Dental Association (BDA), as polling shows that just 74 per cent of parents are aware that routine check-ups are free for children aged under 18.

Following the latest 5 per cent rise in NHS dental charges in England, dentist leaders have called on government to end the ‘confusion by design’ that’s helping keep young and vulnerable patients away from their right to free NHS dentistry.

  • A poll of 910 GB parents of children aged under 18-years-old by YouGov found just 74 per cent of parents thought routine dental check-ups are free for children under 18. Only 69 per cent thought fillings are free for under 18s. Only 54 per cent thought the same for orthodontic work.
  • Younger parents demonstrated less awareness on free check-ups for their children, with awareness at 67 per cent among parents aged 25-34, and falling to 62 per cent among parents aged 18-24.
  • 42 per cent of parents have delayed a routine dental check-up for themselves because of dental treatment costs – Nearly onein 10 parents (8 per cent) admit to doing the same for one or more of their children aged under 18 – even though no charges apply. Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among children.
  • Freedom of Information requests from the NHS Business Services Authority now show that 117,882 fines have been issued for misclaiming free dentistry since May 2014. However, nearly nine out of ten(86.7 per cent) appeals against penalties are now being been won. 

Dentists accuse government of failing to promote free access and of using heavy-handed tactics through the £100 penalty fines levied on those ‘inappropriately’ claiming access. The BDA has said these fines are hitting a wide range of groups including those with dementia and special educational needs (SEN) and their carers who are often unable to complete the required paperwork accurately.

In a new report launching to mark the latest increase in NHS charges, the BDA has said government must reassess their approach to minimise barriers to care and end the inflation-busting increases that are now plugging holes in the budget left by declining state investment. The BDA estimate charges will overtake direct funding as the principle source of revenue for the service in England within a generation.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of General Dental Practice at the BDA, said, “NHS charges exist to discourage patients from seeking dental treatment and now appear to be delivering results even among those who don’t need to pay. 

“Nearly 5m children are failing to attend at an NHS dentist each year and extractions are surging. The fact so many parents are simply unaware these check-ups are free of charge shows just how little energy the Government is putting into prevention.

“We have vulnerable patients who either cannot navigate the bureaucracy or are simply never made aware of their entitlements. What looks like confusion by design is leaving parents in the dark and dementia patients on the receiving end of £100 fines. Britain faces deep-seated dental health inequalities, yet ministers’ top priorities are keeping demand down and the revenue rolling in.

“These charge hikes don’t put a penny of extra investment into the service and reform is required so no one in real need has to think twice about seeking our care.”