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​Dentists welcome official investigation into fines hitting vulnerable NHS patients

30 January 2019


The launch of an investigation by the National Audit Office into the penalty charge notices (PCNs), handed to patients for misclaiming free NHS dental care, has been welcomed by the BDA. 


The aggressive policy, supported by government campaigns such as #DontRuntheRisk, has seen over 400,000 often high needs patients a year – many on very low incomes, the elderly, and those with learning difficulties – receive £100 fines simply for ticking the wrong box on claim forms.


The latest NHS Dental Statistics revealed a collapse in attendance among patients who are exempt from paying NHS dental charges. The BDA have expressed deep concerns that the government has cultivated a hostile environment to vulnerable and low-income patients in a bid to keep costs down.

Official figures show a fall of two million treatments delivered to patients exempt from NHS charges since 2013/14 – a fall of 23% in 4 years.


The number of fines issued has gone up more than 10-fold in the last 5 years, from 33,887 in 2012/13 to 427,238 in 2017/18. Of the cases appealed, 90% of appeals are won.


The BDA has lead calls for reform, met with the NAO in early January making the case for an investigation, and is calling on the Health and Social Care Select Committee to provide further scrutiny. The NAO investigation will likely cover penalties issued across healthcare sectors.  


Charlotte Waite, Chair of the British Dental Association's England Community Dental Services Committee said:

"This investigation is welcome news. The government's approach to penalty charges has hit hundreds of thousands of vulnerable patients, and encouraged millions more to miss out on care.


"Ministers have told patients not to run the risk when claiming, but offered precious little to make navigating the system any easier. It doesn't matter if you're a patient, a parent or a carer, ticking the wrong box on a form should not come with a £100 fine.


"Yes, we need a system to protect taxpayer's money, but that does not mean constructing a hostile environment for patients, many of whom have complex needs. An aggressive policy that hurts those who most need the NHS requires real scrutiny."


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