Health minister Ann Keen has called on primary care trusts to ‘take action’ against dentists who pressure NHS patients into paying for private treatment.
Ms Keen issued the call during a Parliamentary debate as she revealed that a dental practice had received an official warning from local NHS bosses for refusing to treat a patient unless she went private.
The unnamed practice, in Oxford, was slapped with a remedial notice on 18 May after one of its NHS dentists allegedly told the patient that while he was unable to provide root canal treatment the clinic would be able to do so privately.
It was given 28 days to reassure Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust that the incident would not be repeated – or face having its NHS contract terminated.
Ms Keen said she was ‘disturbed’ by the case, adding: ‘National health dentists have both a contractual and ethical obligation to deliver all treatment, as clinically required, including root canal treatment.
‘It is unacceptable for patients to be told root canal treatment is not available on the NHS. Where this happens, it is important PCTs take decisive action.’
She added: ‘If an NHS dentist believes that root canal treatment is too complex for them to undertake in their own practice, NHS consultants and clinicians are available to undertake such work. It is important that [patients] understand that the NHS exists to provide that.’
The health minister was responding to Oxford West and Abingdon MP Evan Harris, who raised the case of the Oxford practice in a Westminster Hall debate and said he suspected the behaviour was not isolated to his constituency.
Dr Harris said: ‘Asking someone in pain whether they wish to have the treatment by going private or not be helped at all is not acceptable.
‘I don’t believe it’s acceptable for patients to be dangled the prospect of private treatment when they are attending – as an NHS patient – that practice on that day.’
He said: ‘I wonder whether there is this trend among some dentists to try to deter people from registering as an NHS patient in order to concentrate on private patients.’
Returning to the ‘underlying problem’ of patients being placed under pressure to go private, he added: ‘I would be extremely surprised if it was confined to my constituency or indeed Oxfordshire.’
Ms Keen admitted that in parts of Oxfordshire ‘people are unable to see NHS dentist as quickly as they would like’, but said new services were due to open this year, including at Oxford’s Leys health centre, which is expected to provide access for an additional 7,000 patients from July.