Office of Fair Trading investigates dental market

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today launched a market study (Thursday) which will examine whether the private and NHS dentistry markets are working well for patients.

The UK market for dental services was worth £7.2 billion in 2010.

Forecasts suggest this could grow to £8.2 billion by 2014 with much of the growth coming from the private market.

While the OFT recognises that the UK has some of the highest standards of oral care in the world, it wants to examine concerns raised by consumer bodies such as Which? that many patients are confused over dental treatments and prices.

The study will focus on:
• How dentistry services are sold
• Whether patients are given appropriate information to help them choose between dental practices
• The types of treatments on offer and different payment methods in the context of both NHS and private dentistry.
• How easy it is to change dentists
• Whether the current system for customer redress works.

The study will also examine whether there are any unnecessary barriers to new practices entering either private or NHS funded markets, and consider the issue of professional restrictions on direct access to specialists or providers of auxiliary services, such as hygienists.

Sonya Branch, OFT senior director for services, infrastructure and public markets, said: ‘Patients appear to be confused about the prices they are being charged and concerns have been raised that they may not be getting sufficient information or adequate choice over the dental treatments they receive.

‘We also note that the costs of private dental treatment in England are among the highest in Europe. Given the current strains on people’s finances, we think it is a good time to examine whether competition is working effectively to drive up the quality of private and NHS dental services and deliver better value for money for consumers.’

The OFT will work with the General Dental Council, the Department of Health, the Care Quality Commission and others during the course of its study.

It will also seek representations from dentistry providers and trade bodies.

Dr John Milne, chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, said: ‘The OFT’s 2003 report provided a reminder of the importance of good patient-dentist communication in dentistry. This focus on communication was echoed by the BDA, which called for measures including a complaints service specifically for private dentistry. That service has now been introduced and has the BDA’s full support.
 
‘This report, too, has the potential to be useful. It is ambitious in its scope and follows a period of significant change in dentistry. In the eight years since the last review we’ve seen ill-conceived changes to regulation that have put box-ticking before care, the growth of corporate dental bodies in both NHS and private provision, a significant enlargement in the dental workforce, and botched NHS dental reforms in England that have constrained dentists’ attempts to care for their patients.
 
‘In an effort to put right the last, we are now seeing further fundamental reforms, particularly in regard to NHS contracts and commissioning in England. It is important that all parties who have pushed for these reforms, including government, patient groups and the profession, remain focused on their success. All concerned must guard against allowing this to become a distraction and the OFT must ensure that it does not make premature judgements about things that are still in flux and thereby compromise its report.
 
‘Scrutiny of the roles of the Care Quality Commission and General Dental Council in dentistry is timely given recent independent reviews that have criticised these agencies.’

Parties interested in contributing can contact the OFT at [email protected]

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