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NHS Dentists Shortage worsens over New Contracts

Official figures released have shown that over 1,600 dentists have quit the NHS rather than sign new contracts. Around one in 10 has rejected Labour's reforms//, which has left around one million patients without an NHS dentist.

Besides this another lot of dentists are still "in dispute" over the changes. If their issues are still not resolved, they will be forced to leave the Health Service and switch to private practice.

Since the introduction of the controversial contract in April the number of NHS dentists has fallen from 21,111 on March 31 to 19,642 on June 30.

The reforms replaced 400 separate payments with three pay bands, ranging from a check-up costing £15 to more complex work costing £190. They were aimed at improving access to NHS care for patients and were combined with a recruiting campaign that brought more overseas dentists here than ever before.

Although Health Minister Rosie Winter admitted that hundreds had left the NHS at the time of the contract she denied it was a mass exodus.

According to the Dental Practitioners' Association, which represents High Street dentists, the figures showed eight per cent of NHS dentists had left in just three months.

Chief executive Derek Watson said: "In addition to the fact that the number of dentists has fallen by 1,649, each dentist will be doing less work on the NHS making the access problem worse. Private treatment has now overtaken NHS treatment as dentists' main source of income."

"This ties in with the results of our survey that confirmed anecdotal evidence of high levels of dissatisfaction with the new NHS dental contract introduced in England on 1st April 2006, in which 98 per cent of respondents said that the target-driven system is affecting their clinical decisions."

Several dentists who signed the contract "in dispute" over the terms and conditions, says it did not allow them to provide a quality service to replace the old "drill and fill" treadmill.

Lester Ellman, chairman of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee, said that patients were opting for private care amid uncertainty about the future of NHS dentistry. He said 1,373 of the new contracts signed by dentists 'in dispute' are yet to be resolved out of 2,773 originally signed under protest.

He said: "At a time when the government is trying to increase access to NHS dentistry, the loss of any dentist to the service has an impact. These figures reflect the uncertainty felt by dentists and patients alike. The significant number of contracts that were signed in dispute and that are yet to be resolved, means that uncertainty is set to continue."

"At the current rate, it will be 2007 before all of these disputes are resolved. Dentists are frustrated by the target-driven approach of the new contract which fails to allow a more preventive approach to care. These figures do not provide any evidence that the government's reforms have achieved the aim of making it easier to find an NHS dentist."

Health minister Rosie Winterton said: "NHS dentistry is expanding - with Primary Care Trusts now commissioning more services than under the old contract. There is no shortage of dentists willing to come forward to expand their services or establish new practices."

"Many of the dentists who chose not to take up the new contract in April were not providing significant levels of NHS dentistry. What matters is not so much the number of dentists, but the level of NHS service they provide."


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