Yesterday, consumer watchdog Which released the findings from a new study, indicating the failings of the current NHS dental system. Although it points out the responsibilities of dentists to keep their online and offline information about prices and availability up to date, it also highlights the systemic failings of the NHS dental contract. Dentists are given a fixed budget annually to perform dentistry, and supply of NHS treatment is not transferable between practice locations based on variations in patient demand. As a result, we see all kinds of suboptimal outcomes for patients, including dentists apparently ‘up-selling’ private treatment or not having time to manage updating their availability on NHS Choices.
Daily Mail were quick to jump on the same old tired headlines – ‘greedy dentists rip you off….’. This type of coverage misses the bigger picture, which is that the fixed and shrinking budget for NHS dentistry is not sufficient for the whole population. The way this limited resource is distributed is also structurally designed to fail.
What Patients Think ?
This type of report in the press feed common concerns among the public – lack of clear information concerning NHS prices and appointment availability, and non patient-centred care i.e. the uncomfortable feeling of the health professional not looking after your best interest. Needless to say, this is not conducive to increasing dentist/patient trust and encouraging the 30 million people ( Yes , half the population !) who don’t see a dentist regularly to look after their oral health and thereby avoid potentially life-threatening illness.
What Dentists Think ?
NHS dentists tirelessly work in a broken system forced upon them for almost 10 years, some treating up to 50 patients per day, and lack a true voice of solidarity speaking on their behalf. They manage the demand for their services on a local level, but are unable to increase NHS patient access when necessary due to the limit on the NHS services they are contractually able to provide. In addition, they have experienced an 800% increase in the cost of compliance in running a dental practice in recent years, despite negligible increases in NHS fees.
What Government Thinks ?
By what we have seen in recent years, it appears that in the eyes of government NHS dental access wins votes. But no government wants to take the blame for the limited NHS dental access we see today, nor accept the truth that there just isn’t enough money to go around. There is in fact pressure to reduce the NHS budget further, in order to help cut the deficit and direct funds elsewhere. On a national level, decision markers lack the visibility of local supply and demand needs and furthermore are unable to match them up – the annual contract system won’t allow it.
Getting Real About the Future of NHS Dentistry – The Big Lie
The truth is that there is not enough funding for everyone to receive NHS dental care. Trying to claim otherwise is deliberately deceptive and has been called The Big Lie by dentist turned campaigner and radio 2 resident dentist,Dr Tony Kilcoyne. In addition, the budget for dental care in real terms is shrinking because every time a dentist misses their targets , they are reduced for the next year. This should indicate the writing is on the wall, NHS dentistry is low priority and the “greedy” dentist is taking all the flack. What happens in the real world is mixing of NHS and private dental care to make the budget go further. This is complex ( and some say by design) and leads to customer confusion and the types of headlines we saw in the Daily mail . As always, try to see behind the headlines ask if you’re being presented with the full picture.
Toothpick has built a solution that won’t fix the root cause of the problem, it certainly helps in the interim – by surfacing available NHS appointments and treatment prices in real-time so that you can make an informed decision about where to go and book online to get the spot. We also fully support the Which campaign which is running concurrently, encouraging greater price transparency from dental practices, for those people choosing to go private. We encourage all our practices to publish prices, keep them up to date, and Toothpick guarantee’s that they will honour that price when you pay. Together, with raised awareness of the underlying problems at play here, we can start to build a better future for dental care in the UK.