Half of all dentists 'are refusing to see new NHS patients'

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The Independent Online
NEARLY half of Britain's dentists are refusing to take on new National Health Service patients in their pay dispute with the Government, according to an independent survey. However, most patients said they could find a dentist when they needed one.

The survey by Which? Way to Health, published today by the Consumers' Association, found that 45 per cent of dentists would not take on a new patient when asked to do so by telephone.

In July, 350 dentists were asked if they would take new NHS patients. In March, 1,179 patients, who normally had treatment on the NHS were interviewed.

The survey of dentists, conducted a week after a British Dental Association (BDA) ballot, found that 80 per cent would not take new patients.

The ballot followed a Government decision to cut dentists' fees because of a miscalculation in which they were judged to have been 'overpaid'. They had done more NHS work - and been paid for it - than their pay agreements had allowed for.

Stephen Tidman, under-secretary at the BDA, said that night that an 80 per cent vote in favour of not taking on new patients was not the same as 80 per cent of dentists taking action. 'All along we have reminded dentists to think of the impact on their patients,' he said.

'What we said would happen is happening. Government action has accelerated the trend towards private practice. Those practices which were on the margins have decided to go private.'

The Which? researchers also found that predictions that National Health Service dental care would virtually disappear in the South-east had not materialised in the spring.

'Our sample sizes weren't large enough to say for sure but they suggest there wasn't a huge problem. In London and the South-east, 82 per cent (of patients) said it was easy to find another NHS dentist; the national figure was 93 per cent,' the magazine says.

'Government figures show that there are problems in some very specific areas (such as certain London boroughs) but not in the South-east in general.'

The Which? survey says that 17 per cent of patients had put off their next appointment because dentists would only treat them privately and 3 per cent had received private treatment because their dentist would no longer provide treatment on the National Health Service.

Another 2 per cent had been told they could no longer have NHS treatment.