A recent Daily Telegraph story* claimed that some dental patients are paying more for NHS treatment than they would if the same treatment were provided privately. The article said: ‘The price for a filling on the NHS is now £43.60 but some private surgeries charge just £35…’
This raises a potential question for dentists: should they inform NHS patients of the cheapest treatment options even if that includes private treatment?
In the DDU’s experience, dental fees have always been a common cause of dispute between patients and dentists. The DDU has always advised dentists to give patients all
relevant information about their treatment options so they can make informed decisions. In a case such as that described in the Daily Telegraph, a dentist can justify providing relevant information about NHS and private charges.
This is reflected in the General Dental Council’s guidance, The Principles of Patient Consent, which says that dentists should ‘give patients the information that they want and need to know’ and should make clear ‘the nature of the contract, and in particular whether the patient is being treated under the NHS or privately; and the charge for an initial consultation and the probable cost of further treatment.’
In addition, The National Health Service (General Dental Services Contracts) Regulations 2005 state that NHS treatment plans should include ‘the NHS charge for treatment; and any proposals the contractor may have for private services as an alternative to the services proposed under the contract, including particulars of the cost to the patient if he were to accept the provision of private services.’
Of course, it is important that no pressure is put on the patient to accept private treatment and that dentists avoid denigrating NHS care, for example, suggesting that NHS treatment will be less than satisfactory.
However, if the information about fee options is provided in good faith, and in line with the above guidance, a dentist should be able to justify their actions if called upon to do so.
Back in 2003, the Office of Fair Trading published a report on private dentistry in the UK** which found that some patients were confused about the cost of treatment; that patients were not offered NHS treatment when it was available or that they are unaware they were being treated privately until presented with the bill.
Today, the need to explain all the treatment options remains paramount but it’s clear that dentists should also consider whether they need to provide information to NHS patients about private alternatives.
* ‘NHS dentists can cost more than private’, Daily Telegraph, 14/08/2007
** ‘The private dentistry market in the UK’, Office of Fair Training, March 2003.
Bryan Harvey is the deputy head of the Dental Defence Union (DDU).