NHS dentists to be paid to take on patients

Britain’s much criticised NHS dental services are poised to be overhauled, with dentists being paid more for taking on new patients.

Andy Burnham, health secretary, said he supported “in principle” a plan that would reward dentists for registering new patients.

The author of the report, Professor Jimmy Steele, said dentists would have “a significant chunk” of their annual income – possibly as much as 50 per cent – linked to the number of patients on their books.

“It’s an incentive to take more patients on,” he said. “We are saying there needs to be an incentive to take patients on and it’s also a useful performance measure.”

The Steele report was commissioned by Alan Johnson, the former health secretary, in response to growing public anger about the shortage of NHS dentists in many parts of the country.

Apart from recommending that dentists should earn more for taking on extra NHS patients, the report also proposes remedies for when dental work goes wrong. That could mean dentists being penalised for faulty work and having to carry out repair work at no extra charge to the NHS.

At present dentists can end up being paid twice by the NHS for carrying out faulty work: first for the initial treatment, then for putting right a mistake. “It’s a basic principle of quality and warranty,” said Prof Steele.

Mr Burnham said he wished to challenge the assumption that a previous government attempt to improve dentistry with a new contract in 2006 had “not worked for the public”.

It may not have resulted in the progress the labour Government had hoped for but there had been a “marked increase” in the number of patients getting access to an NHS dentist, he added.

“I recognise this is an area of unfinished business,” he went on. “We need to make sure the NHS is on the right path.”

But he insisted that the measures in the review were “certainly not about ripping up the 2006 reforms”.

According to the review, there has been too much focus since 2006 on paying dentists according to how much work they carry out.

A new way forward was for dentists to be paid according to three elements: registration of patients, quality of work and volume of activity.

Prof Steele also called for a new system of patient charges, replacing the current three band system with one of between five and 12 bands.

This was in response to some patients feeling they were not always getting value for money, he said.


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