Dental plan attracts up to 1,000 new patients daily

BETWEEN 500 and 1,000 patients a day are joining a private dental scheme which offers teeth maintenance contracts at between pounds 5 and pounds 18 a month.

The scheme, which has enrolled more than 4,000 dentists and nearly 275,000 patients, is another nail in the coffin of a comprehensive NHS dental service.

Supporters of the scheme say that an NHS dental service no longer exists, with patients already paying 75 per cent of the cost of their treatment up to a limit of pounds 225. Children and people who receive income support are exempt.

The scheme, Denplan, is the only private patient plan to be accredited by the British Dental Association and yesterday was called by the House of Commons Select Committee on Health to describe how it operates.

NHS dental care has been in crisis for more a year since the Department of Health decided to claw back a pounds 200m 'overpayment', created when dentists did more NHS work than had been predicted and, as a result, earned more than had been settled under their national wage agreement.

After ballots, half of all dentists decided to take no new adult NHS patients and the Government ordered a fundamental review by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield of dentists' complex NHS pay arrangements.

Sir Kenneth's report last month suggested targeting limited NHS dental resources more keenly and envisaged a system where state support only amounted to 15 per cent for adults.

Denplan, started six years ago by Stephen Noar, a Winchester dentist, is not an insurance scheme. Patients are enrolled when their teeth and gums have been put into a good state and enter into a contract with their dentist for regular treatment.

They are enrolled into one of five price categories after the dentist makes a judgement based on the state of their teeth. Only 2 per cent of patients, Denplan told the select committee, are in the most costly category of between pounds 15 and pounds 18 a month. Three quarters are in two lower categories and charged between pounds 5 and pounds 10 a month.

Patients pay, in addition, for laboratory work for crowns, plates or bridges but for major dental work caused by accidents Denplan operates inclusive insurance cover.

Mr Noar said: 'The Government has to decide what priorities it wants to set and then direct its resources to those priorities. The idea of a free NHS dental service disappeared long ago.'

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