Dentists go to law over NHS patients

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A dentist is being taken to court by his colleagues because he has continued to treat new fee-paying NHS patients despite a practice decision to ban them, writes Liz Hunt.

Vrajesh Ruparelia, 31, was served with an injunction preventing him from treating the new patients last Friday. His colleagues, Andrew Moszczynski and Suzanna Hobday, who work at the Old Police Station practice in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, claim that Mr Ruparelia is in breach of an agreement.

The case, the first of its kind according to the British Dental Association, signals another development in the deteriorating relationship between the NHS and dentists. Thousands of dentists are "de-registering" NHS patients - more than 800,000 since 1991 - or refusing to take on new ones because of a dispute with the Government over NHS fees and plans to reform the dental service.

Patients in parts of London and other major cities and those living in rural areas, particularly the South-west, are finding it difficult to register with an NHS dentist. None of the three other dental practices in the Tewkesbury area accepts new fee-paying NHS patients, although they will provide state-funded treatment to children and people on benefits.

Mr Ruparelia, who is lodging an appeal against the injunction, said: "It is difficult to make any comment. I have to defend my position and inform patients what is going on but I am not able to say anything else."

He is continuing to see patients but has been forced to employ his own receptionist. Previously, the three dentists, who are "expense-sharing partners" (independent practitioners who share premises and costs) used the same receptionist and practice manager.

Mr Ruparelia's solicitor, Paul Hughes, described the action as a "restraint of trade" and said his client was being prevented from earning a living.

Mr Moszczynski and Ms Hobday declined to comment yesterday, saying in a statement that the matter was sub judice.