A “bonus scheme” to increase access to NHS dentistry for new patients falls short due to lack of funding, claims an industry expert .
The newly piloted plan, to award dentists money for taking on new NHS patients, mirrors a similar trial run in Greater Manchester in June 2023, which aimed to increase new patient access by offering dentists £80 per new NHS sign up.
The successful Greater Manchester trial was hailed as a success, however critics claim “cheapskate” funding offered nationwide, which sees dentists offered £15 to £50 per patient, falls well short of funding compared to the local scheme.
The new national dental bonus scheme is part of the Government’s NHS dentistry “recovery plan” which claims to provide a “faster, simpler, fairer” approach to dentistry. However, the proposals have faced heavy criticism in a week where police had to manage a queue outside a newly opened NHS dental practice in Bristol due to excess demand for places.
Prior to the trial, a BBC survey found that 97% of dental practices in Manchester were not accepting new adult NHS patients. The same survey found 100% of the practices contacted in Oldham, Tameside and Bury were unable to accept new patients.
The dental professional news site GDPUK reported that the Greater Manchester trial has been a success with 80,000 new patients seen and an additional 80,000 emergency patients were treated.
172 Greater Manchester dental contractors signed up to the trial with all but two opting to continue with the plan for a further year.
Ian Gordon is the dental director of Riverdale Healthcare which operates 60 dental practices nationwide with four in Greater Manchester. Gordon has found that the £80 payment offered in the trial has mitigated the financial risk dentists face when taking on new patients. New patients that have not seen a dentist for some time often require more costly care.
Mr Gordon said: “The Manchester trial has proven that it has worked well but the funding is critical, if you are going to get dentists to take on new patients you need to underwrite the risk.”
Riverdale’s Greater Manchester dental practices have seen 2200 new patients since June whilst several Riverdale practices elsewhere in the country are currently unable to take on new patients.
However, this is where there are issues with the national scheme. The government proposes a new patient payment of £15 or £50 depending on treatment need, a figure well below the £80 offered in Greater Manchester.
Mr Gordon added: “The principle works well but the government has more than halved the funding.”
He fears that the Government’s “cheapskate” approach leads to inadequate funding levels which will cause dentists to leave the NHS.
Mr Gordon is one of many concerned the new plans don’t address the root causes of the issues facing NHS dentistry. The British Dental Association (BDA) has reported cuts in NHS funding of £1bn in real terms since 2012 have not adequately addressed by the Government.
New NHS patients in Greater Manchester have benefitted from a level of funding that won’t be available elsewhere, giving rise to fears that the findings from the trial are irrelevant when applied nationwide.