Ministers need to follow the lead of public opinion and break with a long-term strategy of using these increases as cover for cuts in spending on NHS dentistry.
Our new survey by YouGov of adults in England shows:
- Nearly a quarter (23%) report delaying or going without NHS dental treatment for reasons of cost
- 45% say the price shapes the choice of treatment patients opt for, more than those following the clinical recommendations of their dentist (36%)
- An overwhelming majority support a break from the Government's current model of ramping up charges while reducing government spending. 38% say dentistry should be fully funded by government through general taxation, effectively free at the point of delivery. 29% say funding from government should increase, while maintaining some patient charges. Similar levels of support are clear among all political allegiances, social classes, and regions. A further 16% say charge levels should remain unchanged
- There is strong support for extension of free NHS dentistry to groups not currently covered, with 82% saying exemptions should cover cancer patients, whose treatments can cause severe dental problems.
The Government must reject plans broadcast by Whitehall sources for a further 4% increase in charges next year, and fully appreciate the impact these increases have on our lower income, higher-needs patients.
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"This hike won't put a penny into NHS dentistry, it will just force millions to think twice about needed care," said BDA Chair Eddie Crouch, "Sadly, widening health inequality is a price this government seems willing to pay to cover for cuts. This is not a partisan issue. The public recognise this is not the way to fund a core part of our health service."
Health Minister Neil O'Brien has said that the increase "will raise important revenue for pressurised NHS budgets". We have made it clear that the NHS dental budget has effectively remained static, around £3bn for the best part of a decade, with patient charges forming an ever-greater share of the total pot. Direct Government spend on dentistry was lower as the country headed into the pandemic than it was in 2010.
A band 3 treatment in England like bridges, crown or dentures now costs £306.80 and just £203.00 in Wales. The Government need to explain to the public why patients in England are now being asked to spend £100 more for the same NHS care.
We need urgent and fundamental reform of the NHS dental contract underpinned by sustainable investment. This approach fails both patients and this profession.