Free NHS dental care: misleading patients must end – OFT
An Office of Fair Trading (OFT) study has found that some 500,000 patients annually have paid for private dentistry despite being eligible for NHS treatment.
The OFT, which polices consumer protection and competition law, has called for major changes to the UK dental sector.
Claiming that dentists do not always act in their patients' best interest, the watchdog said that many individuals are not equipped with the information they require to make informed decisions about their dental care.
In some cases, the information given was inaccurate, leading to a warning to dentists from the OFT to avoid misleading patients.
The OFT report also highlighted the "unjustified" restrictions which deny patients direct access to dental care professionals, such as hygienists, without a dentist's referral.
Such restrictions are likely to erode both patient choice and competition, according to the OFT.
OFT chief executive John Fingleton said that in the interests of patients the report's "significant concerns" about the UK dentistry market must be dealt with as soon as possible.
"All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment," said Mr Fingleton.
"We also unearthed evidence that some patients may be receiving deliberately inaccurate information about their entitlement to NHS dental treatment, and we expect to see robust action taken against such potential misconduct by dentists."
Dr Susie Sanderson, who chairs the British Dental Association's executive board, insists that most patients are satisfied with their treatment, although an avenue for complaint is desirable.
"Research by bodies including the regulator of dentistry, the General Dental Council, confirms that the vast majority of patients are happy with the care they receive," said Dr Sanderson. "The Office of Fair Trading's own research also confirms this to be the case."
"Where patients do have concerns about their care, it is clearly important that they have an effective complaints process. This is helpful for dentists and patients alike and dentists support the goal of making the process as simple as possible."