OFT calls for urgent reforms in the dentistry market

A study by the OFT has found that the UK dentistry market is not always working in the best interests of patients.  It states that some dentists are misleading their patients about their right to NHS treatment so they will pay for private treatment instead.

Both NHS and private dentistry services in the UK were included in the study.  It was found that about 500,000 people a year have been provided with inaccurate information about their treatment options.

Concerns were also raised in relation to the practice around tenders for NHS dental contracts.  The current practice makes it extremely difficult for new dental practices to be established and for successful dental practices to expand.

The OFT made a wide range of recommendations to address these concerns.  These included:

  • Providing clear, accurate and timely information to patients about prices and available dental treatments.
  • Allowing direct access to dental care professionals such as dental hygienists, dental technicians and dental therapists, instead of patients having to obtain a referral from a dentist.
  • Reform of the NHS dental contract in England in order to facilitate easier entry to the market and to allow successful practices to expand.
  • Simplification of the complaints process.
  • Developing a robust and effective code of practice covering the sale of dental plans.

The OFT Chief Executive, John Fingleton said ‘Our study has raised significant concerns about the UK dentistry market which need to be tackled quickly in the interest of patients.  All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment.  We also unearthed evidence that some patients may be receiving deliberately inaccurate information about their entitlement to NHS dental treatment, and we expect to see robust action taken against such potential misconduct by dentists.’

‘This study has also highlighted that the current NHS dental contract in England may well not be working in the best interests of patients, and that regulations unjustifiably restrict patients from getting direct access to dental care professionals like hygienists.  Reform in both these areas is needed without delay.’

Commenting on the report, Health Minister Lord Howe said ‘We welcome this study, which has found that the vast majority of patients are happy with their dental treatment – and that the vast majority of dentists behave ethically.  However, denying patients care on the basis of misinformation is a very serious matter – any dentist that does this risks breaching their contract and we would expect the local NHS to take action.’

Dental authorities have been singled out by the OFT and criticised for failing to take action against dentists and dental practices who have not followed the rules.  This includes NHS commissioning bodies, the General Dental Council (GDC) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

In light of CQC recently becoming the registering body for dental practices (since April 2011) they may see this as an opportunity to demonstrate their enforcement powers and become more vigilant in the areas highlighted in the survey.  Dental practices will need to ensure that they are compliant in relation to the provision of information to patients about prices and dental treatment both on the NHS and privately to avoid any potential compliance or enforcement action from CQC.

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