A report from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has indicated that some dentists are misleading their patients about their right to NHS Treatment, so they will pay for private treatment instead.
In a study of NHS and private dentistry in the UK, the OFT found that despite the majority of patients being satisfied with their dentists’ service, 500,000 people a year were given the wrong information about their treatment options.
Responding to the report, Health Minister Lord Howe said: “We welcome this study, which has found that the vast majority of patients are happy with their dental treatment – and that the vast majority of dentists behave ethically.
“However, denying patients care on the basis of misinformation is a very serious matter – any dentist that does this, risks breaching their contract and we would expect the local NHS to take action.”
The OFT said that it discovered significant concerns about the UK dentistry market, which it concluded was in urgent need of reform.
John Fingleton, the OFT’s chief executive said: “Our study has raised significant concerns about the UK dentistry market which need to be tackled quickly in the interest of patients.
“All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment.
“We also unearthed evidence that some patients may be receiving deliberately inaccurate information about their entitlement to NHS dental treatment, and we expect to see robust action taken against such potential misconduct by dentists.”
Among other problems, the OFT found that:
- Patients should not be pressured by dentists into buying insurance policies to cover the cost of private dental treatment. Twenty per cent of patients who had bought these plans had done so under pressure.
- The restrictions on patients making direct appointments with dental hygienists, therapists and technicians should be removed by the General Dental Council. There were no good reasons for these restrictions, the OFT said, and they limited patients’ choice.
- In England, the Department of Health should make it easier for dentists to set up new practices or expand existing ones. Dentists with an NHS practice were effectively protected from competition.
- The complaints system should be made “simpler, easier and less time-consuming for patients and dentists to resolve complaints”. The OFT found that many patients did not have their problems sorted out properly if their dental treatment was poor.
The report also found that despite 58% of the £6bn total spend on dental treatment in 2009/10 being spent on NHS Treatment, 39% of patients at NHS dentists in the past two years had not seen information about NHS charges.
Meanwhile according to the study, 56% of dentists offering private treatment also did not show their fees at reception desks and 82% of patients who had recently paid for treatment had not been given a written treatment plan.
Dental authorities, including NHS commissioning bodies, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the General Dental Council (GDC) were also criticised in the OFT report for failing to prioritise enforcement action.
“NHS commissioning bodies and the GDC need to be far more proactive in identifying and pursuing formal and timely enforcement action against instances of misconduct where appropriate,” said the report.
The Department of Health said they are already looking at reforming its contracts for dentistry practices.
“We are currently piloting elements needed to design the new dental contract,” said Lord Howe.
“These pilots will help establish a better basis for a system where patients can see the right dental professional when they need to.”
Following the OFT’s study, the GDC has agreed to require dentists to display their private charges adequately, while the British Dental Association has said it will publish a code of practice for dentists selling dental insurance plans.
[Source: BBC News]