NHS dental charges do more harm than good and must be removed and replaced with adequate direct funding for universal access, the same as for GP services.
NHS dental services cannot play their part in reducing health inequalities and improving health outcomes if NHS charges create a barrier to accessing care.
The NHS dental budget can no longer be reliant on patient charges as it creates systemic problems to integrating dental services with the rest of the NHS.
Until patient charges are removed the NHS should not be referred to as “free at the point of care” as it is not.
What is the problem?
The possibility of having to pay for dental care can be off putting, with patients sometimes unclear why, if the treatment is provided by the NHS, they have to pay.
We know that one of the main barriers to dental care, especially for those with the greatest need, is the cost. This is true for patients and prospective patients, regardless of whether those patients would qualify for exemption from NHS dental charges or not.
The confusing system of patient charges for NHS care blurs the line in some patients’ minds of private and NHS care and is a deplorable barrier to care, made even worse by confusing messages from the government that the NHS is free at the point of care.
Many patients assume that the practice retains the charge and this alters attitudes and perceptions of treatment, and value for money.
In some practices the patient charge is higher than the UDA rate meaning the NHS makes a profit from patient charges.
According to the BDA the NHS recoups about 30% of the dental budget from patient charges making it harder to prioritise high needs groups who do not pay charges.