BDA: Dental charge increase covers NHS cuts

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BDA says dentists are “health professionals not tax collectors

The British Dental Association (BDA) has branded the latest patient charge increases in England as a cover for cuts to state funding for NHS dentistry. 

The third year of above inflation increases of around 5% a year will bring charges for a basic check-up to £21.60, and charges for items like crowns or dentures to £256.50. According to the Government’s own estimates this amounts to patients paying in an additional £72.4 million over the course of the financial year.

Dental charges are increasing as a proportion of the NHS budget, while contributions from general taxation are in long-term decline. The BDA estimates patients will be contributing a full third of England's NHS dental budget by 2020 – and are on course to exceed government spending by 2032.

Nearly 1 in 5 patients have delayed treatment for reasons of cost according to official statistics. Recent academic studies show 600,000 patients with toothache, over 11,000 a week, are choosing to head to their GPs, who are not subject to charges but are unequipped to provide dental treatment. The BDA estimates these appointments cost the NHS over £26 million a year. Some 135,000 patients per year are attending A&E units with dental problems.

Patients in England already pay far higher charges for basic care and contribute a larger share of the dental budget through charges than their counterparts in the devolved nations – whose systems have become less reliant on charge income over the last decade.

The BDA’s Chair of General Dental Practice, Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen (top) said: “These unprecedented charge hikes are self-defeating, and simply discourage the patients who need us most from seeing an NHS dentist.

“Cost is a huge barrier to many patients on moderate incomes. The result is patients bottling up problems and requiring more extensive treatment, which hurts their health and costs the NHS millions.

“We are health professionals, not tax collectors. These hikes don’t go to us or towards improving the services our patients receive, they simply provide cover for cuts in state contributions.

“Prevention works in dentistry, but we can’t deliver that focus when Government keeps choosing quick savings over sustainable investment.”