NHSThe Government is being accused of charging patients a ‘stealth tax’ when they visit for an NHS dental checkup.

The Times reports that the Government is making millions of pounds through patients paying more in dental charges than their treatment costs.

Some patients could be paying subsidies to the NHS of up to £10 at every checkup, which means the Government will be making £1.3 million over the next year.

‘When patients put in more towards their care than the Government pays to provide it, NHS charges cease to be a “fair contribution” and become a bad joke,’ Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of the GDPC at the BDA, said.

‘This absurd situation has been fuelled by inflation-busting increases, and flatlining budgets.

‘These hikes don’t go to dentists, aren’t supporting needed investment or improving access.

‘They are becoming a nice little earner for Ministers, which actively discourage the patients who most need our care.

‘This funding model reflects Westminster’s casual disregard for NHS dentistry.

‘This service needs sustainable funding, not stealth taxes providing cover for stealth cuts.’

Increasing costs

The Department of Health and Social Care increased patient dental charges by around 5% on the 1 April.

The Times estimates that if dental costs were to continue to rise at their current rate until 2022, and payments to dentists were to continue to rise at their current rate (1.5% per year), more than 2,000 of the 6,300 high street practices in England would be charging patients more than their treatment costs, raising around £20 million for the NHS.

‘For many patients, NHS dentistry has become a fixed price service largely funded by themselves,’ Neel Kothari, a practising dentist in Cambridgeshire, said.

‘It raises the bigger question: how much should the Government be contributing towards NHS dentistry?’


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Self-defeating

The British Dental Association (BDA) has called patient charges ‘self-defeating’, believing they discourage patients from attending the dentist.

According to a recent BDA survey, one in five patients have delayed dental treatment due to the costs involved with attending the dentist.

‘With NHS dentistry seemingly propped up by ever increasing patient charges and cross-subsidy from private treatment, the analysis in The Times makes it hard to escape the feeling that the Government wants to retain all the control while reducing its proportion of the cost,’ Nigel Jones, sales and marketing director at Practice Plan, said.

‘That’s hardly an earth shattering conclusion, especially given the current difficulties facing the wider NHS, but the public deserve greater honesty so they can make an informed choice between NHS and private care.’