OFT calls for ‘urgent reform’ of dentistry market

Patients misled over entitlement to NHS treatment

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has today called for urgent reform of the UK dentistry market after an investigation revealed dentists may be deliberately misleading patients over their entitlement to NHS treatment.

The study found that around 500,000 patients a year may be receiving inaccurate information from their dentists on NHS entitlement, meaning they are paying for private treatment instead.

The OFT also highlighted a number of additional concerns, including instances of potential pressure selling of dental payment plans by dentists. As a result, the British Dental Association has agreed with the OFT to develop a code of practice covering the sale of dental payment plans.

In addition, the study found that patients have insufficient information to make informed decisions about their choice of dentist and the dental treatments they receive.

Dental benefits providers have welcomed some of the report’s findings, with Denplan saying it strongly supports the code of practice initiative.

Dr Roger Matthews, chief dental officer at Denplan, said: “We take great care to ensure that dentists and their teams are appropriately trained and we support policies to ensure that all providers follow this ethical approach and will continue to do so.”

The OFT also raised concerns about continued restrictions preventing patients from directly accessing dental care professionals, such as hygienists, without a referral from a dentist.

It said such restrictions are “unjustified” and likely to reduce choice and competition, and is calling for the General Dental Council to remove the restrictions as soon as possible.

National Dental Plan (NDP), the corporate dental plan provider, said it welcomes the findings of the study and in particular the recommendation that patients be given direct access to professionals such as hygienists.

Andrew Bower, managing director of NDP, said: “The report illustrates that patient informed choice is an issue - corporate dental plans can overcome this issue as they provide the member with complete freedom to choose the dentist from which they would like to receive treatment, be it NHS or private.”

In response to the report’s finding that 20% of patients who joined a dental payment plan through a dentist felt they were under pressure to sign up, Bower pointed out the situation was very different for corporate dental plans.

He said: “Corporate dental plans are sold via the workplace by an insurer or a regulated intermediary who are regulated by the Financial Services Authority. This means all information in terms of premiums, treatment reimbursements and terms and conditions are provided at point of sale enabling the member to make an informed decision.”

However, the British Dental Association (BDA) said it was “disappointed” at the way the report had been portrayed.

Dr Susie Sanderson, chair of the BDA’s executive board, said: “The delivery of effective dental care is all about good communication between dentists and patients. That communication will not be enhanced by the OFT’s headline-grabbing approach to publicising this report.

“That it has chosen to ignore what it knows about patient satisfaction and instead focus on a very small number of cases where it believes it has identified problems is disappointing.”

The findings come after the NHS Information Centre released figures earlier this month showing that an extra 1.1 million people now have access to an NHS dentist compared to May 2010.

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