We need more co-payments – not less. But “Stealth dentistry charges bring in millions for NHS”

Co-payments are an important principle in Insurance. They reduce claims. There is no incentive to reduce claiming on the 4 medical health services, except waiting lists/times and in England, prescription charges. In ophthalmology, and in dentistry there are big co-payments. Dental care is riddled with worrying incentives, and the contract with dental surgeons needs changing. But before it is changed we need to re-examine the whole ideology of the health services. With the poorest getting more obesity, and more sugar related dental decay, many in the professions are expecting a rise in streptococcal heart disease. Does the recent rise in scarlet fever (The Mirror) and scarletina reflect this risk increase? Rationing (restricting, prioritising, excluding)is usually reasonable, but it should not be covert. or unequal, or subject to a lottery of where one lives.

Chris Smyth reports for the Times 4th April 2018: Stealth dentistry charges bring in millions for NHS (Be sure to read his analysis at the end

Hundreds of thousands of patients are paying a “stealth tax” when they have an NHS dental checkup, making the government millions of pounds a year.

Within five years NHS patients at a third of surgeries will be paying more than their treatment costs as dental fees continue to rise, an analysis has shown. This will raise £20 million for the government, leading to claims of a “rip-off” tax on treatment.

Just over half of NHS patients pay for their dentistry, with children, pregnant women and those receiving low-income benefits exempt from the charges, which are considerably lower than private treatments.

After charges rose at the weekend, a checkup costs £21.60, fillings and teeth extractions cost £59.10 and complex work such as crowns and bridges costs £256.50. These fees go to the government. Dentists are paid through an arcane system for each “unit of dental activity” (UDA) that they perform.

An analysis of NHS payment data by The Times and the British Dental Association found 331 surgeries that are paid less than £21.60 for each UDA. This means that patients are paying subsidies to the NHS of up to £10 at each checkup, making the government £1.3 million over the next year.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, the association’s chairman of dental practice, said: “When patients put in more towards their care than the government pays to provide it, NHS charges cease to be a ‘fair contribution’.”

The government pays most of the cost for fee-payers at 68 practices. Last year The Times revealed that half of dentists with data available were not taking on new NHS patients.

Charges have been rising by 5 per cent a year. If this continues until 2022, and payments to dentists increase at the previous rate of 1.5 per cent a year, then 2,128 of 6,300 high street practices will be charging patients more than their treatment costs, raising £20 million for the NHS.

Neel Kothari, a Cambridgeshire dentist, said: “For many patients, NHS dentistry has become a fixed price service largely funded by themselves. It raises the bigger question: how much should the government be contributing towards NHS dentistry?”

Dentists say that a fifth of patients have delayed treatments because of their cost, while the UDA system has led to concerns that dentists are incentivised to rush appointments to maximise their pay.

A Department of Health spokesman said that access to services was increasing. “Dental charges remain an important contribution to the overall costs of services and this increase will ensure there is no shortfall in the costs paid by users and those met by the NHS.”

Image result for dentists cartoon

Analysis
Dentists rarely kill patients. While this is good, the low risk of toothache puts it way down the NHS priority list (Chris Smyth writes).

Ministers have delayed fixing the NHS payment system that rewards dentists for seeing more patients. The system as it is creates worrying incentives: Desmond D’Mello caused the largest recall in NHS history after secret filming showed him not changing gloves and equipment between patients. D’Mello, who earned £500,000 a year from the NHS, was struck off but not before five patients turned out to have hepatitis C.

For almost a decade the government has been saying that it wants to shift to a system that rewards dentists for preventing illness, but little has been done. At a time when the NHS needs money, increasing charges is an easy way of raising it. But the government profiting from this looks wrong. Ministers may claim that this is the least-worst option, but they should own up to what they are doing.

Dentists are overwhelmed. Patients and politicians are in denial. Rheumatic fever may follow… “The NHS dental service is broken”

This entry was posted in A Personal View, Dentists, Patient representatives, Perverse Incentives, Post Code Lottery, Professionals, Rationing, Stories in the Media, Uncategorized on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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