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Sunday 23rd October 2016

Should we be paying more for NHS dentistry

16th September 2009

Professor Jimmy Steele from Newcastle University School of Dental Sciences – and author of the Government’s last dental review - asks should we by paying more for dentistry.


Patients and dentists may suggest NHS dentistry does not go far enough while health planners may have a different view, perhaps that it carries out “too much of the wrong sort of stuff.”

What the NHS provides is free dentistry for some and a subsidised service for others but by controlling the price. Some argue this is at the cost of quality.

There is more being spent on NHS dentistry than ever before but spreading that funding too thinly fails everyone.

Much of the strain on the system comes from those aged over 40 - high disease and high treatment with maintenance costs rising for this sector.

Tighter controls and more efficient incentives are essential, but in the long run they may not be enough to preserve the principles of universality and comprehensiveness which are under strain.

Restricting access to services or the range provided is an option as is tightening budgets, but neither would be popular.

So that leaves us with the rather awkward prospect of higher patient charges within the NHS as a way of keeping a broad dental healthcare system viable.

Higher NHS patient charges applied selectively may allow the NHS to provide a more extensive service to a larger number of people.

That may be the lesser and least costly of several competing evils but first we need to tighten up what we have.


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