Michael Watson reviews the dental contract rise of 1.34%

dental contractLast week, whilst the profession and the dental press were busy listening to and digesting the General Dental Council’s appearance before the Health Committee, the Department of Health gave its judgement on general dental practitioners’ pay for the coming year.

In case you missed this momentous news, here is the result: dental contracts will rise by 1.34%.

John Milne, the outgoing chairman of the British Dental Association’s (BDA’s) General Dental Practice Committee, said: ‘We are living in an era of pay restraint, but restraint should not mean pay cuts,’ which is what this increase is.

The Doctors’ and Dentists Review Body (DDRB) had said that dentists’ net income should rise by 1% and left the Government to add in an element for expenses, which they did, leading to the rise of 1.34%.

The DDRB

The DDRB describes itself as independent of both the Government and the professions, making its decisions on the basis of evidence given to it by them.

More than 20 years ago the then heath secretary, Virginia Bottomley, unilaterally altered its remit so that it could recommend whatever it liked, provided it was 1%.

As a result, the review body honourably decided that its independence had been compromised and refused to make any recommendation that year.

The Government took the hint, but when, more recently, its remit was revised, a condition was inserted requiring it to consider the funds available to the department of health and to ‘take care account’ of economic and other evidence submitted to it by the Government.

When I worked at the BDA, much of my time was spent on its evidence to the DDRB, preparing its written evidence, helping the committees to present a concerted view, looking at what the other side had to say and then helping the BDA committee chairmen to give oral evidence.

I must admit to a degree of cynicism over this as the DDRB looked at what the department said was the most it could afford (normally around the rate of inflation) and what the professions said was the smallest rise they could tolerate and split the difference.

Something odd

This year I carefully read what the DDRB had written and noticed something odd.

The DDRB is required to make recommendations to the four UK Governments on ‘the remuneration of dentists taking any part in’ the NHS, which therefore includes all general dental practitioners (GDPs).

But when the BDA highlighted an issue with recruiting associate dentists, particularly in Wales, the DDRB said that the pay of associates ‘is determined by principal dentists rather than by our pay recommendations’.

So the 80% (16,800) of GDPs in England and Wales who ‘take part in’ the NHS, but do not have their own contract, are excluded from these recommendations.

Only the 4,750 who have a contract are included by the DDRB, plus a similar number of corporate body contracts, even though these are not dentists.

Surely it is time for the DDRB to decide which dentists it makes recommendations about, instead of pretending that it decides on all dentists’ pay.

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