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Dentists: Charge hike a slap in the face for hard pressed families

The British Dental Association has lamented the latest increase in NHS patient charges, stressing the hike will not put a penny in the cash-strapped service, and is merely covering for government cuts.

Charges in England will rise by 4% from 1 April 2024. This will mean the cost of a band 1 treatment like a check-up will increase from £25.80 to £26.80, a band 2 like a filling will increase from £70.70 to £73.50, and a band 3 like dentures will increase from £306.80 to £319.10.

Polling conducted by YouGov for the BDA last year found nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents in England delayed or went without NHS dental treatment for reasons of cost. 45% said the price shaped the choice of treatment they opt for. Entitlements to free care are limited, with many Universal Credit recipients not being eligible.

The BDA has long warned of the Government’s long-term strategy of using charges as a substitute for meaningful state investment. NHS dentistry’s budget has been effectively static at around £3bn for the best part of a decade, with patient charges forming an ever-greater share of the total pot until COVID. Direct Government spend on dentistry was lower as the country headed into the pandemic than it was in 2010. The collapse in patient numbers at lockdown required Ministers to increase their contributions to maintain the viability of the service. Last year’s 8.5% hike saw the return to a fatally flawed ‘business as usual’ model as far as funding is concerned.

The recent NHS dentistry Recovery Plan claimed to offer £200m in investment. The BDA now understands that none of this is ‘new’ money, but is based on recycling vast underspends, the result of practices struggling to hit their punitive contractual targets.

The Welsh Government has not adopted the same strategy as England. The BDA has demanded that Ministers explain to the English public why they are expected to pay over £100 more for treatments like dentures than their Welsh cousins. In just a month over 170,000 people have joined a joint petition with the Daily Mirror and 38 Degrees calling for fair funding and real reform of NHS dentistry in England.

Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee said:

“This latest hike is another slap in the face for hard-pressed families across England.

“This won’t put a penny in to bring NHS dentistry back from the brink. The Government is asking the public to pay more for less of a service.

“Ministers need to explain why patients in England are expected to pay £100 more than their Welsh cousins for identical NHS treatment.

“The answer is very simple. Ministers are simply covering for cuts.”