New charging regime blunders 'drove up NHS dental bills'

By Daniel Martin
Last updated at 8:47 AM on 14th August 2008

The cost of dental treatment shot up by more than twice the rate of inflation after the botched introduction of a new charging regime, it has been claimed.

The average cost of a visit rose by 7 per cent between 2005 and 2006, the year when the scheme was brought in alongside a new contract for NHS dentists.

That compares with an inflation rate of 3.1 per cent between those two years.

The analysis by the Tories shows that Health Service patients have paid £4.5billion in charges since 1997, and that average charges rose 35 per cent to £26.50 last year.

Last night the Government said this ten-year rise was in line with inflation. However, the leap in prices between the 2005 and 2006 financial years was not.

More than 400 separate charges for different-dental treatments were rationalised into just three bands in 2006.

But instead of the changes equalling out, ensuring that the average patient still paid the same as the year before, the charge shot up by 7 per cent.

Over the same period, the number of patients able to access an NHS dentist actually fell, because 1,000 dentists decided to leave the NHS.

Tory health spokesman Mike Penning said: 'Labour's botched policies mean that millions of hard-working families have completely lost access to affordable dental care.

Ministers need to own up to their mistakes, stop dithering and take action now to rectify the mess they've got the country into.'

Just a third of the population - some 20.4million - are registered with an NHS dentist.

Michael Summers of the Patients' Association said the lack of access to affordable treatment had 'disastrous consequences in terms of oral health'.

Susie Sanderson, of the British Dental Association's executive board, said: 'The untried and untested dental contract introduced in 2006 has caused serious problems for patients and dentists alike.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'Patient charges have stayed the same in real terms as they have gone up in line with inflation.'

He added that £2billion had been invested in NHS dentistry which was improving the level of service.


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