Ensure your patients understand the rules about NHS exemptions to avoid future complaints, the Dental Defence Union (DDU) says.

The warning comes after the total number of fines for incorrectly claiming an exemption on NHS fees, rose to 385,770 in 2016/17.

Since September 2014 there has been a total of 689,770 dental penalty charges issued by the BSA, meaning more than half of which were issued in 2016/17.

‘Patients are responsible for ensuring they are entitled to claim free NHS dental treatment, but the rules can be confusing,’ Nick Torlot, DDU dentolegal adviser, said.

‘Dental professionals can help by signposting patients to information such as the NHS BSA guidance sheet so they can understand their eligibility and are less likely to incorrectly claim for free treatment.

‘Unfortunately some patients might not understand that the auditing of NHS payments and charges is undertaken by the BSA, rather than the practice.

‘Patients are often aggrieved by being fined when they believed they were exempt.

‘A large number of complaints of this sort come from the fact that patients feel they were either given poor advice or misinformation when they were filling out the exemption form.’

Rise in charges

A number of dental practices have contacted the DDU to ask for advice after patients were fined £100 by the NHS Business Service Authority (BSA), on top of their fee for NHS treatment, after incorrectly claiming an exemption.

In some cases practices were asked to reimburse patients who felt they had been wrongly advised about their NHS exemption.

The DDU has issued tips on how to minimise the risk of patients complaining, as well as helping them to understand their obligations:

  1. Encourage patients to read the claiming free dental treatment factsheet, which is available in a number of languages
  2. Ensure staff involved with handling NHS exemption forms (known as FP17PR) do not offer advice to patients, as it is not within their field of expertise and could leave the practice vulnerable to criticism if there is a complaint
  3. Explain that the BSA is a Government agency and that the fines it administers to patients who incorrectly claim free treatment are not within the practice’s control
  4. Sympathise with patients, acknowledging that the NHS exemption system can sometimes be difficult to understand, but that the responsibility for correctly claiming exemption lies with the patient.