Eddie Crouch, founder member of pressure group ChallengeDoH, says he is humbled at the financial backing he has received from dentists to support his court battle against the new contract.
The orthodontist from south Birmingham claims his local health trust failed to consult the public on the changes introduced last April, and the case will go to the High Court in February. If he is successful it could lead to a major overhaul of dental services across England and Wales – but if he loses, he risks bankruptcy.
Dentists across Britain have pledged nearly £40,000 to his cause. ‘I have to admit I’ve been humbled,’ he told the BBC. ‘Some of the letters that I’ve received with some of the cheques that I’ve received, from people that I’ve never been in correspondence with, I’ve never had an e-mail from them, never a telephone call.
‘It’s quite remarkable that a lot of people are sending me good wishes with these cheques. And as a result of that I just feel it’s so important to continue with the fight.’
‘Our waiting lists have risen quite dramatically, and in the first 18 months of the contract our waiting list is approaching a year,’ he added. ‘If that has happened in the first 18 months of the contract then I have real reservations on how that waiting list is going to be managed.’
He says his workload under the new contract was miscalculated, failing to take into account that his was a growing practice, and so left him unable to take on any new NHS patients last year. It has led to a legal dispute with his local primary care trust over whether it consulted adequately on the changes, as required under the health and social care act. Dr Crouch argues that it did not.
A solicitor who specialises in this area, Tim Lee, said: ‘The consultation process ought to be carried out with focus groups, and it ought to be carried out with patient health forums, citizens panels, newsletters and all other proper ways of gathering information.
‘I think the consequences (of this case) would be extremely wide-ranging. First of all there would have to be consultation processes carried out that are not only detailed but also transparent so that any consumer group and anybody else can see that the process is being carried out properly.
‘Not only that. It might even lead to some fundamental changes in the contract framework itself because the current cost-driven framework would then be pushed in a different direction by the needs of the consumer.’
South Birmingham PCT insists that it implemented the contract in accordance with government guidelines and will vigorously defend this action in the High Court in February.
The Department of Health said it would not comment specifically on an ongoing court case, but a spokesperson said: ‘NHS dentistry is expanding with PCTs commissioning more dental services now compared to the year before the reforms.’