Cost of NHS dental check-ups to double

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The cost of an NHS dental check-up is to rise sharply to help pay for a ceiling on the costliest treatments.

A long-delayed review of charges that replaces hundreds of individual costs with only three prices will be unveiled by ministers this week. Health service dental patients currently face a bewildering number of charges for procedures such as fillings, crowns and root canal work. The highly bureaucratic system also led to a "drill and fill" culture as dentists were paid per treatment.

It is hoped that reducing paperwork and simplifying charges according to the complexity of the treatment will help encourage more dentists to carry out NHS work, relieving a chronic national shortage.

Capping the most expensive treatments at around £120 will also help pensioners who typically pay most for dental treatment but can least afford it. Critics, however, are bound to seize on the steep price rise for the basic check-up. The cost of a routine examination could double from £6 to £12 under the new, banded system. The rise is to be offset, however, by new advice that healthy adults need only see a dentist once every two years.

The Independent on Sunday first disclosed the conclusions of an internal review into dentistry a year ago, but ministers delayed publishing the document amid fears of a public backlash. Rosie Winterton, the health minister responsible, finally announced last week that she was preparing to release the report compiled by Harry Cayton, the Government's patients' tsar.

She was responding to MPs' calls for urgent action to address the shortage of NHS dentists. Acknowledging that dentists faced a "paperwork treadmill", she said: "We want to see a system that's simpler and more transparent for dentists and their patients."

She added: "There have been and remain access problems in parts of the country. But this Government is embarking on a programme of radical reform and reorganisation, backed with significant new investment."

It is expected that the regulations putting in place the new simplified charging structure will be laid before Parliament this week and the system could be up and running later this year.

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