Dental patient charges increase by 5% in UK, causing uproar
LONDON, UK: Though practices in the UK remain open as the country goes through its second lockdown of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, dentists appear to be facing increasing barriers to the delivery of oral healthcare. An October survey conducted by the British Dental Association (BDA) found that 35% of UK clinics cited limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE) as having a significant impact on their ability to see patients. Now, a 5% increase in NHS dental charges will come into effect next Monday, rankling some of the industry’s leading professional bodies.
The fee increase, which was initially scheduled for 1 April, was postponed owing to the pandemic. Its introduction will mark the fifth consecutive year in which NHS dental charges have been raised by 5%—a result of the UK government’s 2015 spending review.
The effects of the charge increase include the following:
- Examinations, diagnosis, clinically necessary scaling and polishing, and other routine services will increase from £22.70 to £23.80 (€24.98 to €26.19).
- Treatments such as extractions, root canal therapy and fillings will increase from £62.10 to £65.20 (€68.34 to €71.75).
- Crowns, dentures, bridges and other work that requires a dental laboratory’s involvement will rise from £269.30 to £282.80 (€296.34 to €311.20).
The BDA came out strongly against the increase, claiming in a media release that the government is “using inflation-busting increases to try and plug the hole in the [NHS]’s shrinking budget”. The trade union pointed to the fact that, prior to the pandemic, net government contributions to NHS dentistry had fallen by £650 million in real value since 2010, whereas dental charges had been raised by 40% over the same period.
Dr Dave Cottam, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, did not mince his words on the topic, stating in the release: “Slapping higher charges on patients struggling to secure care in the middle of a pandemic is utterly wrong-headed. This inflation-busting hike won’t put an extra penny into a service in crisis or help millions currently unable to get an appointment.”
“Sadly, this short-sighted approach will only give lower-income, higher-risk patients more reasons not to attend,” he added.
Dentists remain under pressure
As previously reported by Dental Tribune International (DTI), millions of UK residents have missed or delayed dental appointments since the pandemic began. The BDA estimates that a staggering 19 million appointments have been delayed, if not outright cancelled, since the first lockdown began, and there are significant limitations still in place regarding the number of patients that practices can see. In addition, a recent survey conducted by Dental Protection found that, of the 500 dental professionals questioned, half were experiencing difficulty in coping with the uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and had adopted negative mental attitudes regarding the future.
In the opinion of Dr Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, the NHS dental charge increase “will no doubt put even more strain on people’s budgets, particularly those from lower economic backgrounds”.
“The last thing we need is another reason for someone to put off visiting his or her dentist,” he told DTI. “We know from a survey we conducted earlier this year that 36% of adults say the costs associated with NHS dental treatment have prevented them from accessing treatment.”
“Freezing charges, rather than increasing them, would be an important and clear signal that dentistry remains a fundamental part of a person’s health and well-being. The dental practice has a key role to play in the health of local communities and this must be reflected within the government’s wider health strategy,” Carter concluded.