Charges to visit NHS dentists soared last year while the number of patients fell, new figures reveal.
The amount paid out by patients rose by £60 million, up 15% on the year before, in the wake of the new contract.
Patients’ representatives said they had been inundated with calls from members of the public who were thoroughly confused by the new system as official figures show that patients had to pay an average of £16.91 each in NHS dental charges in 2006/7, compared with £14.58 the year before.
Despite the extra payments, more than 500 dentists have left the NHS in the past 18 months, forcing more patients into the private sector.
Critics said the government had left millions of patients worse off. Shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: ‘These statistics make a mockery of Labour’s promise that the new charges would not lead to patients paying more for NHS treatment.’
He accused the government of ‘shamelessly milking patients’ in an effort to cover up its lack of investment in dentistry, adding: ‘We have now got less access to NHS dentistry, fewer resources for dentistry and higher charges.’
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said: ‘To hear that those patients lucky enough to find a dentist are being charged even more for it really beggars belief.
‘We hear from parents who cannot find someone to carry out orthodontic work on their children, we hear from patients who find themselves referred by an NHS dentist to a private colleague. These people are in despair.’
The figures – which appear in a 230-page report by the DoH – show that 266,000 fewer patients saw an NHS dentist in 2006/7 compared with 2005/6.