Dentists 'will reduce NHS work', report shows

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Thousands of dentists will reduce their NHS work or quit it altogether because of concerns about the Government's plans to reform dental services, a report revealed today.

Thousands of dentists will reduce their NHS work or quit it altogether because of concerns about the Government's plans to reform dental services, a report revealed today.

A consultation by the British Dental Association (BDA) found that 59 per cent of high street dentists said they would either cut their NHS commitment or quit in protest over the modernisation plans.

Dentists are concerned that new finance systems for dental services are being rushed in and they have little confidence in the Government's plans for NHS dentistry in England and Wales, according to the BDA.

The UK is already suffering from a severe shortage of NHS dentists, with over half of adults not registered with a dental practice.

The Government is moving towards a system where primary care trusts (PCTs) will take over the funding and commissioning of local NHS dental services in England in 2005.

Under the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, by April 2005 all PCTs will take control of the £1.2 billion dental services budget from central Government.

The change will mean that PCTs will either have contracts with dentists to provide dental care or will provide the services themselves.

The plans will also see dentists receiving a fee per patient rather than a fee per treatment they carry out.

The BDA's consultation found that less than one in five of more than 7,000 dentists questioned thought the Government had listened to their concerns.

John Renshaw, chairman of the BDA's executive board, said: "Dentists and patients have had promise after promise that things will improve, but those promises have yet to turn into action.

"We have an NHS dental service at breaking point, with too few dentists, too little investment and too little time to give patients the care and treatment they deserve."

Only 2 per cent of dentists said they would increase the amount of NHS work they did on the back of the Government's proposals.

A worrying 16 per cent said they would stop providing NHS dentistry altogether.

Dentists are concerned that PCTs will not be ready to take on their new funding responsibilities by next April.

Few of those questioned by the BDA also thought that the changes would solve the current problems in dental provisions, which has led many patients to seek treatment abroad.

Dentists said they were frustrated by the lack of information coming from the Government about the changes, even though they were less than a year away.

"Barely a week goes by without yet another story about the difficulties patients are facing to get NHS dental care," Dr Renshaw said.

"We have a highly dedicated workforce out there who want to be able to provide a service that is about more than the drill-and-fill treadmill.

"Dentists want to help patients manage their own dental care, to offer prevention advice, but neither the current system nor the proposed new one allows that to happen."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Our negotiations with dentists about the detail of the new contract are at an early stage.

"We want to ensure that the contract is a good deal for all concerned and that it keeps dentists in the NHS and attracts more back.

"We share the BDA's aims - to make working in the NHS more attractive to dentists and to improve services for patients.

"We have found that most dentists have welcomed this long overdue overhaul of NHS dentistry and we will continue to discuss with dentists the detail of the contract."

The health minister Rosie Winterton said the Government had increased spending on the NHS by 30 per cent in real terms. There were now an extra 3,000 dentists.

Ms Winterton said the Government was embarking on the most radical shake-up of the profession since 1948. She said the current problems were down to the contract drawn up by the Tories.

In 1999 Prime Minister Tony Blair said that within two years everyone would be able to see an NHS dentist just by ringing NHS Direct. Ms Winterton said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that was now happening.

"That may be through a dental access centre or it may be emergency care," she said. "We don't deny there is a problem at the moment."

The minister said the Government knew it had to train and retain more dentists. She said increasing numbers of dentists were now switching to the new contract.

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