Leading Article: A kick in the teeth from the dentists

Share
Related Topics
THE plight of Britain's National Health Service dentists has received a sympathetic hearing. This newspaper has highlighted how fee cuts by the Government have put unreasonable financial pressure on many, particularly those working in inner-city areas. Dentists have been credited with fighting to protect NHS funding, even as their protests led to patients being turned away.

Yesterday, they betrayed that faith. In an extraordinary volte-face, the British Dental Association made clear that it would happily abandon much NHS dentistry as long as its members could line their pockets. In essence, it offered the Government this cynical but tempting pact: 'We will hold down costs to the taxpayer if you give us free rein to squeeze as much money as we can out of patients.' This stance is especially disillusioning given the poor state of Britons' teeth: one in five people over 16 years of age has none.

At the moment most people - apart from groups such as children and those on income support - pay 80 per cent of dental fees, which are set according to a strict schedule. If treatment costs exceed pounds 250, the Government chips in the rest. So the NHS offers non-exempt patients two supports: a subsidy and tight control over the charges dentists can make.

The dental association wants to abolish the subsidy and the fee schedule. Instead the Government would pay the costs of bringing the patient into the surgery: check-ups, X-rays and emergency treatment would be free. After that non-exempt patients would pay all the dentists' unregulated fees.

Thus NHS patients would be delivered unprotected into the market-place. The association knows the dangers they would face. Last year its own survey revealed that private dental charges are five to 10 times higher than the NHS schedule rate. And there were great variations within the private sector. A crown (NHS cost pounds 32.25) could cost between pounds 60 and pounds 600 within the same area.

Consumers are virtually powerless to control prices in health markets. When people are ill they put their trust in a professional to define the problem and prescribe the best treatment. They are in no position to argue with the diagnosis, the treatment plan or the cost. Thousands of papers have been written on health care in the United States, proving just this point, and President Bill Clinton is struggling to reform that system as costs have spiralled.

When the internal market was introduced into NHS medical care, purchasing power was deliberately not given to patients. The Government recognised that people were neither powerful nor sufficiently knowledgeable and could be exploited by professionals. A proper market would be one in which a patient could gain quick access to the range of prices in his or her area, high-quality information that ranked dentists, plus the expert knowledge to evaluate a dentist's diagnosis. Dentists would hate such a real market. Instead they advocate a phoney version at the expense of their patients and the NHS. Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, should resist the temptation to join in this betrayal.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own