OFT report critical of UK dentistry

UK DENTISTRY is "not always working in the best interests of patients" according to a new study produced by the Office of Fair Trading which calls for major changes.

The OFT study of the £5.73bn UK dentistry market concludes that "patients have insufficient information to make informed decisions about their choice of dentist and the dental treatments they receive".

A survey conducted as part of the study suggests that each year around 500,000 patients may be provided with inaccurate information by dentists regarding their entitlement to receive particular dental treatments on the NHS with the result they may be paying more for private dental treatment.

The OFT report also highlights concerns with the current NHS dental contracts in England and the small volume of new contracts put out to tender each year making it extremely difficult for new dental practices to be established and successful dental practices offering NHS service to expand.

OFT also addresses restrictions preventing patients from directly accessing dental care professionals, such as hygienists, without a referral from a dentist. It considers these restrictions to be unjustified and likely to reduce patient choice and dampen competition. Other concerns highlighted include the complexity of the complaints process for patients and instances of potential pressure selling by dentists of dental payment plans.

John Fingleton, OFT Chief Executive said: "Our study has raised significant concerns about the UK dentistry market which need to be tackled quickly in the interest of patients."

In a response to the report the British Dental Association says the OFT fails to take a practical view of the complexities and realities of dental care. It has also expressed disappointment at the way the report has been portrayed, arguing that the OFT’s own acknowledgement of the high levels of patient satisfaction with dental care appears to have been set aside in favour of headline-grabbing statistics.

Dr Susie Sanderson, Chair of the BDA’s Executive Board, said: "Research by bodies including the regulator of dentistry, the General Dental Council, confirms that the vast majority of patients are happy with the care they receive. The Office of Fair Trading’s own research also confirms this to be the case.

"This report treats dentistry purely as a market, and dental care as a commodity. In doing so, it has taken a simplistic view of dental care that fails to take into account the huge sums of money dentists invest in surgeries and ignores the unique role in screening and diagnosis that dentists are trained to perform. Dentistry is not a commodity; it’s the delivery of healthcare to real patients. Failing to understand that serves neither dentists nor patients well."