Ability of NHS dentistry to deliver for patients under scrutiny

25 October 2011

Patients want to be confident that dental disease will not impair their quality of life, but that means different things to different people, Professor Jimmy Steele told a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dentistry today.

The event, which considered the issue of whether NHS dentistry can deliver what patients want, also saw Professor Steele stress the different needs of patients aged under and over 45 years. For those aged under 45, he argued, a capitation-based system and the removal of treatment targets makes a lot of sense. For older patients the world is very different and more complex he believes. The best possible use of resources in treating these patients is very important, he said, and in the current contractual system perversities around band three treatments mean they are not being used as well as they might be. 

Discussing a recent mystery shopper survey of dentists, he argued that it isn’t the length of time a check-up lasts, but its content, that is key. He also stressed the importance of thinking about issues around NHS entitlements and choice and warned that we now have a generation of patients who have never had dental problems and have therefore become conditioned only to visit the dentist only when they are in pain. 

The event also saw General Dental Council (GDC) Director of Policy and Communications Mike Browne unveil the results of the GDC’s Annual Patients and Public Survey and the Annual Survey of Registrants. The GDC’s research identified high levels of both public confidence that they are being treated fairly by their dental care professionals and satisfaction with the care received, he reported. The behaviour of the dental professional and the high quality of care were the most-often given reasons for confidence in dental professionals, he said. Amongst those who lacked confidence in the person treating them, the cost of treatment was the most often cited reason, with a third of those lacking confidence identifying this as the reason. Three-quarters of patients said they had confidence that any complaints they had would be resolved fairly. 

The GDC had also asked both patients and dental professionals what they thought was important in giving the public confidence in dental professionals, Mr Browne explained. Transparency about costs and displaying clear information about fees was rated highly by both dental professionals (69 per cent) and the public (71 per cent).

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