Dentists' pay review set up to defuse treatment crisis

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THE GOVERNMENT yesterday set up its long-promised review of the way dentists are paid in an attempt to defuse the crisis that has seen them leaving the NHS and voting to stop taking new patients.

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, 61, former head of the civil service in Northern Ireland, is to report by the end of the year, with Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Minister of Health, overseeing the review.

The aim is to find a simpler and more predictable way of working out what dentists should get. Options Sir Kenneth is expected to examine include introducing regional variations in expenses, and examining why there are huge variations in dentists' gross earnings before expenses - from around pounds 2,000 to the 40 last year who earned over pounds 200,000, with one-third earning over pounds 100,000. Whether the big earners can deliver quality is likely to be examined.

Another option might be to make dentists' pay more like that of family doctors - requiring a minimum commitment but then paying a basic practice allowance rather than most pay coming from fees for each treatment.

Announcing the review, Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said that given the timescale of the report, she hoped dentists would 'think long and hard before taking any action that would damage patients'.

All sides agreed that the payment system had to be improved, she said. 'This review offers the prospect of improving the system for the first time in decades.'

Sir Kenneth is being invited to produce options for change rather than a single recommendation, but is free to set out the pros and cons of each course of action. He is to be given an expert panel of advisers.

A ministerial committee to implement the sweeping changes to community care due in April is to be set up today, bridging the health, social security and environment departments.