They raised some controversial questions as ‘food for thought’ to get discussion going. One of these was the suggestion that patients should be limited in the number of visits they make to their GP.
This caused something of a media frenzy, which eclipsed the questions they asked about the future of NHS dentistry. The response they receive from their groups could influence what appears in the 2015 general election manifesto however.
Overall, the authors believe that the government is improving access, saying that it has provided a ‘cash boost’ of an extra £30 million.
But they note that the Office of Fair Trading has raised concerns about patient access to dentistry being limited, ‘either by a lack of information about entitlements to NHS services or through structural barriers’.
The latter includes dental patients being unable ‘to access hygienists, dental therapists and clinical dental technicians without first receiving a referral from a dentist’. This issue of ‘direct access’ has now been addressed by the General Dental Council.
The second point the authors make is that the most deprived communities in the UK experience the highest levels of oral disease, ‘and yet it is this group that does not currently access dental treatment.’ They point out that there are a number of different ways to target such need such as health visitors in schools, or national campaigns targeting school children. ‘Child Smile’ which is operating in Scotland is cited as one such campaign.
Finally, they say that government can have a role to play in preventing tooth decay. One of the ways this can be done is through ‘fluoridisation’ (sic). The paper also notes that other forms of prevention include the application of fluoride varnish twice a year, the prescription of high fluoride toothpaste or fluoride tablets.
They ask the groups to vote on two questions. First, should areas of highest need or those of highest demand receive the most money? Secondly, they point out that NHS dentistry is funded differently from other health services: ‘core services are subsidised while advanced or cosmetic procedures are fully chargeable’.
They ask groups to vote on whether this system is clear and fair. If not, how could it be made more clear and more fair?
By news correspondent Michael Watson