Nearly 400 NHS dentists earn more than £300,000

Nearly 400 NHS dentists earned more than £300,000 last year, new figures show, despite millions of patients struggling to access free treatment.

In total almost 1,200, or one in every 20 dentists, earned more than £200,000 between 2007 and 2008, three times as many as the previous year.

The rising number of dentists earning what were described as “staggering” sums was revealed just a day after it was disclosed that some GPs now make up to £380,000 a year.

The payments come despite the fact that 3 million fewer patients are seeing an NHS dentist since a new contract was introduced in 2006.

Official figures show that dentists are carrying out greater numbers of treatments per patient than in the past, as well as more complicated procedures.

Those in the highest earning brackets also put in longer hours, with the majority working more than 45 hours a week, the figures, released by the NHS Information Centre, show.

The income is before tax but after expenses, which typically include the costs of renting surgeries and paying staff, have been taken into account.

The figures, based on dentists’ tax returns, include those who work solely for the health service as well as dentists who have a mix of NHS and private work.

They show that 382 of the 20,000 dentists in England and Wales earned more than £300,000 last year, while 1,172 earned more than £200,000. The average income was £89,062.

The new contract was deeply controversial among dentists and around 1,000 left the NHS before it was even implemented.

Problems included quotas to carry out a certain amount of treatments every year.

Dentists who reached their target too soon were effectively asked to work for free, while those who failed to reach the quota faced demands from their local healthcare trust to pay back tens of thousands of pounds of their salary, so-called “clawbacks”.

The new contracts also abolished a number of pay bands, meaning dentists now get paid the same to fit a patient with 10 fillings as just one.

The British Dental Association said that the figures reflected the hard work of dentists attempting to make a success of the new contract.

John Milne, Chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “These statistics reflect the second year of operation of the 2006 dental contract in England and Wales, a time when dentists were working hard to overcome problems with the new arrangements and make them work for their patients.

“Many practitioners were contending with the uncertainty of potential clawback of their contract values,” he added.

But Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said that the amounts involved were “staggering”.

“These figures will astonish people who are struggling to find an NHS dentist. The amount of money some dentists are earning is staggering. It is vital that the NHS can compete with the private sector to secure the best staff. However, we need to know that we are getting value for money.”

Earlier this year ministers announced plans to pilot a change in how dentists are paid, linking part of their income to how many dentists they have on their books, in a bid to improve access.

Earlier this year a survey for Which? magazine suggested that three million people in England had been unable to get an appointment with an NHS dentist in the last two years.


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