Full government inspections of wholly private dental practices may be in operation in Wales from March.
Legislation to eliminate the gap occupied by practices which treat no NHS patients has been introduced into the National Assembly in Cardiff.
Tamsin Dunwoody, Labour AM for Preseli (Pembrokeshire), hopes the law to require inspections by Healthcare Inspection Wales will be in operation by the end of March, when campaigning opens for the Assembly elections. Lack of both an inspection regime and an associated complaints system for Britain was highlighted by the Office of Fair Trading in 2003.
Dunwoody believes the problem has been caused by the new contract as some practices have dropped their previous handful of NHS patients who ensured government inspection.
Health minister Brian Gibbons said his officials had already spotted the gap. He has also met the British Dental Association (BDA), who have expressed ‘no particular objection’ to the proposal.
The move won all-party support. Conservative health spokesman Jonathan Morgan said: ‘I was quite surprised. I think that many of us probably assumed that Healthcare Inspection Wales already did it.’
Lib Dem Jenny Randerson said it had not been possible to guarantee that NHS patients forced to go private receive ‘the very best service’. She added: ‘This is more than just a theoretical gap in the process of inspection. There is also little redress or protection for customers except to complain to the General Dental Council (GDC) or to pursue the matter through the courts.
‘The Office of Fair Trading’s report into private dentistry in 2003 found, among other things, that the standards promoted in professional guidance published by the GDC are not routinely monitored and enforced, and that compliance in some areas is low. It also found that, unlike the NHS, there is no universal complaints system, and procedures for dealing with complaints and redress are often inadequate.’
Stuart Geddes, BDA Wales director, said his organisation was happy with the proposed legislation. ‘But we do not think it would be fair that we should have to pay for the privilege of being inspected,’ he added.
Of the 700 dental practices in Wales, the BDA estimates that around 20 treat only private patients.