Dentists overcharging NHS patients hundreds of pounds

Some dentists are overcharging NHS patients by hundreds of pounds a time, an undercover investigation has found.
Dentists overcharging NHS patients hundreds of poundsThey are quoting patients up to £725 for work which should cost just £198, under the current three tiered payment system for NHS work.

They are also commonly neglecting to offer patients a scale and polish alongside a check-up, which should both be covered under the lowest tier of work, and are instead trying to sell it as a private add-on.

Dentists should provide NHS patients with all the treatment that is “clinically necessary in order to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy”, according to a Department of Health leaflet.

Patients should pay a single charge depending on the complexity of the work, even if more than one procedure needs to be carried out.

The leaflet makes clear: “If your dentist says that you need a particular type of treatment, you should not be asked to pay for it privately.”

However, an undercover reporter for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, who needed root canal work and a new crown, was mis-quoted by three dentists he went to see.

Under current NHS rules, they should have said both procedures were covered under Band 3 pricing, costing the patient a single charge of £198.

But one quoted him £725 for both pieces of work; the second said the crown was covered by the £198 NHS fee, but that the root canal work would cost him £480 as a private piece of work; while the third gave a similar quote, saying the root canal work would cost £400.

Seven more undercover patients went for check ups at different dentists. None of them was offered a scale and polish as part of NHS treatment, although they all needed one, even though this should be included under Band 1 treatment, which at the time carried a £16.50 charge.

Three of them were told they could opt to see a hygienist privately, a service typically costing £25 to £40.

Dentists say the way the banding system works pushes them towards wrongly charging extra for treatment – known as ‘gaming’.

Danny Pretorius, who stopped doing NHS work last year, told the programme: “If you had to do everything by the book like you should do, it would be virtually impossible to earn a reasonable living.”

The current “payment by procedure” system, which was introduced by Labour in 2006, has been very unpopular with dentists.

Last December the Coalition announced it was to be abolished and replaced with a “payment by patient” system, to encourage more preventive work.

Pilots of three variants of the new scheme are due to start around the country this summer.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are committed to improving dental access, and we will achieve this sustainably by replacing the existing dental contract with one that pays dentists for the number of patients registered and the quality of the care they provide, rather than the number of treatments carried out.”

*Dispatches: The Truth About Your Dentist was broadcast on Channel 4 at 8pm last night (Monday).

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