It may not be a surprise to many people who use NHS dentistry on a regular basis, but a recent study has revealed that NHS dentistry has actually gotten worse since a reform was introduced by the government less than half a decade ago. As the relationship between NHS dentistry and the public becomes increasingly fractured ,more and more patients are beginning to opt for private dentistry than ever before.In 2006 the government issued a new dental contract in order to improve the standards of NHS dentistry, which was, by the accounts of dentists and patients alike, badly in need of reform. Now, just three years after that reform, an independent review (that was commissioned by the government) has reported that the previous reform has done what many in England thought impossible: it has caused standards of NHS dentistry to fall even lower.
One of the most intriguing things that has been brought to light by the independent review is that over one million fewer patients visited an NHS dentist in the two years after the contract was brought in than had visited an NHS dentist in the two years prior to this. As a result of this, it looks like NHS dentistry is in line for yet another reform.Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, is one of the only people who has not acknowledged the reform as a total failure. However, most commentators on the subject are long past acknowledging that and a question being put forward regularly by commentators is that of why the 2006 reform was not successful.An obvious reason for the failure of the 2006 reform lies in the story behind one particular statistic. NHS figures show that around one thousand dentists chose to stop doing NHS work when the reform was brought in, which was a move predicted by many unions at the time. Some went into retirement and others chose to move toward exclusively private work. However, one of the main reasons for the reform was the lack of NHS dentists. In certain areas of England it was virtually impossible for people living there to even access an NHS dentist. On top of this, many dentists signed the 2006 contract “in dispute”. This meant that months were spent in discussion of the terms and conditions between managers and the dentistry profession, further complicating and delaying the reform.These problems were, of course, just the tip of the iceberg, and the political opposition parties have been extremely vocal in their criticism of the reforms. One spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats went as far as to call NHS dentistry a “national disgrace.”
Put simply, the changes made to NHS dentistry have been received very badly because they have not worked out and now the NHS contract is being totally reworked once again. It is hoped that the new contract will make it easier for patients to access information regarding dentists in their area, particularly ones who have NHS slots free. This will be done by setting up helplines for patients to call. It is also suggested that they will be able to call NHS Direct to get the information. The payment fee system is also due for a reworking.Ultimately, private dentists have already benefited greatly from the poor image NHS dentistry has brought upon itself over the past decade, which is an image that the public will take some time to forget. A reform that actually works would certainly be a step in the right direction.