Committee calls for radical solutions to dentist shortage

29 Mar 01
A cross-party committee of MPs has demanded urgent talks between the government and dentists' representatives to address the 'long-standing' problem of access to NHS dental services.

30 March 2001

The MPs' report warned that it was now time for action rather than 'yet more reviews', otherwise access to NHS dental care would get worse for many people. They emphasised that speed was of the essence.

'The present arrangements for accessing NHS dentistry are inequitable, uncertain and getting worse: patients do not know where they stand,' they said. 'There should be greater clarity and honesty regarding availability of NHS treatment.'

Members of the Commons' health select committee said the current system of calculating dentists' fees for treating NHS patients was driving many practitioners into the private sector. They found that the system, based on performing a certain number of procedures to earn a corresponding amount on the fee scale, encouraged dentists on to a 'treadmill'.

The result was an insufficient emphasis on preventive treatments and disillusioned dentists.

Committee chairman David Hinchcliffe said 'radical solutions' were needed to deal with the 'fill and drill, bob-a-job' mentality that had been encouraged by the current funding arrangements. 'The government has never really addressed some of the problems in dentistry that have been there since the NHS was set up in the 1940s,' he said. 'The remuneration system is at the heart of the access problem.'

The government has pledged that an NHS dentist will be available to all by September, 2001. But figures published by the British Dental Association show that a further 1,000 dentists would have to be recruited to meet this target.

The BDA claims that the equivalent of 1,800 full-time dentists have left the NHS since 1992, when dentists' fees were cut by the previous government.

Michael Watson, a special adviser to the BDA, welcomed the committee's findings and said there was now an opportunity to tackle the 'treadmill' tendency that was driving dentists to leave the NHS.

'If you want to spend ten minutes talking to a patient about oral health, you always have a clock ticking in your head because you have to see more patients,' he explained. 'In the past, there has not been the political will to address this, but there is now a recognition of the problem.'


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