Good grief, the socialized medicine is going great in Great Britain!
Who needs teeth, when you boil everything into mush anyway?
Patients turn to DIY dentistry as the crisis in NHS care deepens
By JENNY HOPE
Last updated at 00:11am on 15th October 2007
Hard to swallow: Few can find an NHS dentist
The parlous state of NHS dentistry was exposed yesterday.
Such is the shortage of state-funded dentists that one in 20 patients has resorted to DIY treatment, in some cases pulling out their own teeth.
One in five has gone without treatment because of the cost.
And of those who have registered with a private dentist, three-quarters did so only because their surgery stopped providing NHS treatment or they could not find an NHS dentist to register with.
The findings, from a survey of more than 5,200 patients and 750 dentists, were held up last night as evidence that new contracts for dentists brought in by the Government last year are failing the public.
Anthony Halperin, chairman of the Patients' Association and a dentist himself, said: 'It's simply astonishing in this day and age that we have people pulling their own teeth out.
"We were assured the contract would lead to a new type of preventive dentistry but it appears to have exchanged one treadmill for another."
Almost half of dentists are not accepting any more NHS patients, according to the survey by 400 Patient and Public Involvement Forums based in each NHS trust area in England.
Six per cent of patients questioned said they had resorted to DIY treatment to avoid expensive dental bills.
This can include anything from using over-the-counter painkillers and salty water to combat an abscess to plugging a broken crown with chewing gum.
Others have resorted to more extreme measures. One patient in Lancashire claimed he had to "remove 14 teeth using pliers".
The survey is the largest study of public and professional views since the Government introduced a controversial new contract for dentists in England in April last year. Labour's reform of dental treatment aimed to simplify the system and give more patients the chance to register with an NHS dentist.
But there is mounting concern that it has led to a deteriorating service.
Many dentists have left the NHS claiming they are not paid properly for the amount of work they do.
Others say they have to see so many patients that they cannot give them an adequate service.
At least 500 fewer dentists are now doing NHS work, but their earnings have risen to as much as £128,000 a year.
Official figures released earlier this month showed a drop in the amount of complex work being carried out.
There have been claims that this is because the contract allows dentists to earn more from cheaper procedures.
Prior to the new dental contract, the average cost of a basic checkup on the NHS was £5.54. The price of a filling was about £10, while a gold crown cost about £95.
Under the changes brought in last year, individual charges for NHS treatments were replacedwith a system of 'bands' with a maximum charge of £194.
Treatments in Band One, costing £15.90, include routine examinations and X-rays. Band Two, costing £43.60, includes fillings, extractions and root canal work. Band Three, costing £194, includes the most complex work such as veneers, inlays and crowns.
These charges compare with fees from private dentists including around £43 for an examination, up to £115 for a filling and £342 for root canal work.
According to Government estimates, more than two million people who want NHS dentistry are unable to get it.
The survey is peppered with comments from unhappy patients.
Sharon Grant, chairman of the commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, which backed the survey, said: "The NHS dental system is letting many patients down very badly.
"It appears many are being forced to go private because they don't want to lose their current trusted and respected dentist or because they just can't find a local NHS dentist."
She added: "There are issues here that have been fudged for too long. Is NHS dentistry just for those who can't afford anything else – or can it revert to a universal, affordable, service to which people have entitlement as citizens and taxpayers?"
Anthony Halperin, chairman of the Patients' Association, said the survey was the latest evidence of the new contract giving a poorer deal to both patients and dentists.
He added: "Patients are having to sign up to private schemes to get the care they need, because the amount of complex work such as crowns is declining on the NHS.
"Other surveys show dentists are very unhappy and fear the renegotiation of the contract in 2009 will make things even worse.
"There could be another exodus from the NHS in two years' time.
Susie Sanderson, of the British Dental Association representing 20,000 dentists, said "This survey underlines the significant problems caused to both dentists and patients by the new dental conbut in the wake of Gordon Brown's decision not to hold one, the party has sunk to distressing lows in the opinion polls.
"An ICM survey yesterday had them on just 14 per cent, compared to the Tories on 43 per cent and Labour on 36 per cent.
The bad news came hot on the tract. The picture it paints, of patients unable to access care, dentists struggling with the target-driven system and anxieties about the new charging system, is an all-too-familiar one.
"The new contract has done nothing to improve access for patients and failed to allow dentists to deliver the kind of modern, preventive treatment they want to give."
Tory health spokesman Mike Penning said: "This is yet more evidence of the crisis this Government has created in NHS dentistry.
"How can we have third world dentistry with over £100billion going into the NHS? It is shocking that patients are being forced to resort to Victorian practices like pulling out their own teeth."
A Health Department spokesman said: "This survey reflects a very narrow view of NHS dentistry which is at odds with the picture we have.
"We know that patients in some areas still face difficulties and that there is more to do, but the NHS now has the foundations on which to build more high quality local services."