Dorset residents who can afford private dental treatment could ease the load on NHS dentistry by paying to have their teeth cared for.
The suggestion is one of several ideas made at a Dorset Council meeting this week – although it has no official backing from either the council or the NHS.
Councillors also heard that there is no need for healthy adults to have six-monthly dental checks and stretching checks by up to two years would also allow more NHS treatment to be carried out for those currently unable to get an NHS appointment.
For many the biggest surprise was that only around 50% of dental treatment is funded by the taxpayer and that there is no such thing as “a patient list” for any dentists, unlike GP surgeries which do have registers of patients.
Dorset, like many other counties, is increasingly having difficulty in recruiting NHS dentists, many claiming they cannot afford to live here because of high house prices and almost all complaining about the funding structure for NHS treatments they carry out.
Councillors heard that, typically, for each ‘unit’ of work they would get a £25 payment in addition to the fees paid by the patient, with some procedures only eligible for a maximum of three unit payments, making it more cost effective to extract some teeth than to fix them.
Long-term problems with a shortage of dentists, councillors heard, means than many surgeries are unwilling to take on patients who have not had regular checks and ‘running repairs’ because of the amount of work they are likely to be taking on with a new patient.
Councillors on the people and health scrutiny committee heard from Dr Louise Farbus who said there was little clinical evidence to support six-monthly check ups for healthy adults. She said it had been suggested that if more healthy people visited their dentist less frequently for routine checks they would free up spaces for those in greater need.
Said Cllr Robin Cook: “There are a whole cohort of people who could afford to go private who are blocking NHS places,” revealing that he had switched from NHS to private dentistry.
Dr Farbus told councillors that in some circles it had been suggested that people who could afford private treatment should do so – because many dentists had a surplus of private places but were under great demand for NHS treatments. Most surgeries work on a 50-50 basis as a private business.
She said that apart from dentists there was also a great demand in the region for dental hygienists and laboratory technicians.
Practice manager Tessa Fielding said that the difficulty was persuading dentists to move away from patients who were “working well” because many liked to have a mixture of routine work which was quick to complete together with some more complex cases, although some of these treatments were viewed by some dentists as not being profitable enough under the current payment arrangements, which are under national review.
Cllr Bill Pipe said he had tried, without success, to find an NHS dentist in east Dorset for two Ukraine refugees, asking more than a dozen, all of which would only take them on as private patients. In the end he found a surgery in the Bournemouth area, although he said registering the refugees with a GP in Dorset had not been problematic.