Cost of dental check-ups to double in NHS pricing reform

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The cost of a basic check-up is to double under a radical shake-up of NHS dental charges.

The cost of a basic check-up is to double under a radical shake-up of NHS dental charges.

Ministers are braced for an outcry when they announce proposals next month to raise the charge for a standard examination from £5.64 to around £12.

Fillings and other relatively inexpensive treatments will cost a flat fee of around £40, while the most costly dental procedures will be capped at £120. Fillings currently cost about £15.

The three new fees will replace the current complex pricing structure, which lists more than 400 separate charges. Dentists complain that the 90-page schedule helps foster a "drilling and filling" culture, as well as tying them up in needless red tape.

Officials defend the proposal to double the basic check-up, pointing out that guidelines on how often to visit the dentist are expected to change shortly.

Instead of the current recommended six-monthly visit, adult patients with healthy mouths will only have to attend a check-up once every two years.

They also point out that the new regime will in effect subsidise those requiring more expensive treatment on the NHS, typically older people who are more likely to struggle to meet the current costs, which can rise to a maximum of more than £300.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health confirmed that work on "streamlining" the current regime was under way but said the new fees would not be finalised until next month.

"We want something that is less bureaucratic for dentists and easier for patients to understand. It can be quite confusing at the moment just what they are being asked to pay for," she said.

The lack of NHS dentists was illustrated by a recent survey which found there are 3.7 NHS dentists per 10,000 people in England and 3.6 NHS dentists per 10,000 people in Wales. This compares with more than five dentists per 10,000 people in Austria, Italy and Poland, six per 10,000 in the USA and nine per 10,000 in Finland.

The worst shortages are found in remote or deprived areas, increasing the pressure on the Government to take action. Even John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, recently admitted that he no longer has an NHS dentist.

John Renshaw, chair of the British Dental Association's executive board, said: "The simple truth is that we don't have enough dentists in the UK. For the sake of dentists and patients alike, it is vital that the Government takes steps to address this problem."

Ministers are expected to announce within weeks a massive expansion of training places for dentists as well as recruitment drives to attract more foreign practitioners.

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