George Osborne has included NHS dentistry on a hit-list of professions where customers deserve ‘a better deal’.
The Chancellor attacked ‘opaque and confusing’ dental charges, ‘inaccurate information’ about treatments and ‘rigid regulatory controls’, which restrict patient choice.
A 25-page ‘blueprint for a better deal’ put dentistry alongside everything from mobile phones, broadband, water bills and school uniforms as areas needing action on competition and prices.
Vowing to save the average family £470 a year, Mr Osborne said: ‘This broad package of reforms will make markets work better for families. ‘Driving competition will improve choice for people and ensure they get a better deal, and cutting red tape will help businesses grow and thrive.’
On dentistry specifically, the Treasury document promised to:
End ‘opaque and confusing’ price lists, saying: ‘The Government will ensure that dentist treatment plans and price lists are clear and easily accessible’
Use the long-delayed reform of the NHS dental contract to weaken ‘rigid regulatory controls that dictate who can enter the market’ – through ‘non-time limited’ terms. It said: ‘The Government believes that there are opportunities to improve both efficiency and competition in the provision of dental services and will be carefully considering the issue of non-time limited dental contracts as part of broader work on contract reform’
Deliver clearer information on available treatments and the prices involved ‘by spring 2016’, using the NHS Choices website.
The document noted that a 2012 report by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) found that 500,000 patients each year ‘may be provided with inaccurate information by their dentist’.
And it said: ‘The Government will ensure that dental patients in England have access to the information they need to make the right decisions about their dental care, by asking NHS England to reinforce the existing contractual requirement to ensure patients understand NHS treatment and prices, and to further improve the information available through NHS Choices by spring 2016.
‘These changes will empower patients to make the best and most affordable choices for them.’
Dentists were promised a new NHS contract by the last Coalition Government, to be delivered by last May’s general election, but the deadline was missed.
The Department of Health did release details of new prototypes to test the entire proposed contract, rather than parts of it – as the first pilots did – but there is still no date for the contract’s implementation.