NHS dental shake-up to be tested in England

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
The current system was only introduced in 2006

A new dentistry system will be piloted in England next year in yet another attempt to improve access to NHS services.

Ministers have agreed to push ahead with plans set out by Labour in summer 2009, which will herald the return of patient registration.

The current system was only introduced in 2006, but led to fewer patients using services.

Up to 60 pilots will be start running from next April taking into account patient list size, quality of care and courses of treatment.

The current system is based solely on courses of treatment, but led to cases where dentists turned away patients because they ran out of their quota of NHS treatments part way through the year.

Instead of improving access, one million fewer patients were treated in the two years after it was introduced than the two years before.

'Positive step'

The government had originally turned their back on registration because it was felt that dentists were over treating patients on their list.

The new system - proposed by Newcastle University expert Professor Jimmy Steele in June 2009 - aims to be more subtle than these two systems by taking into account both list size and courses of treatment alongside the quality of care.

It is loosely based on the successful bonus system that has been introduced for GPs whereby they earn about a third of their income for quality.

The start of the pilots had been delayed by the change of government, but the decision to press ahead with them now has been welcomed by dentists.

John Milne, of the British Dental Association, said the pilots were a "positive step" to improving care, but would need to be given plenty of time to be properly tested out.

He added: "The current arrangements have failed to promote preventive care for patients and have been deeply unpopular with dentists."

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