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NHS dental charges rise 5%

The government is increasing NHS dental charges by 5% from April 2019, it has been announced.

The BDA has criticised the above inflation hike, saying it will work against the prevention drive in oral health.

The dental charge payable for a Band 1 course of treatment will rise by £1.10 in 2019-20, from £21.60 to £22.70 while the dental charge for a Band 2 course of treatment will increase by £3 from £59.10 to £62.10 and the charge for a Band 3 course of treatment will increase by £12.80 from £256.50 to £269.30.

Public health minister (at the time of writing) Steve Brine revealed the rises in a written statement1 on 11 March 2019, saying: 'Dental charges remain an important contribution to the overall cost of the NHS budget. We have taken the decision to uplift dental charges for those who can afford it, through a 5% increase this year.

'The uplift continues with the aim of finding an appropriate balance between the costs paid by service users and those met by the NHS through the contributions of taxpayers.'

The former minister stressed that people who qualified for free dental treatment would remain exempt from charges and those under the age of 18, those under the age of 19 and in full-time education, pregnant women or those who have had a baby in the previous 12 months, and those on qualifying low income benefits would not be impacted by these changes.

Even people not entitled to exemption from dental charges, but who were on low incomes, were eligible to receive full or partial help with dental charges through the NHS Low Income Scheme.

'This policy will allow us to continue to protect the most vulnerable through exemptions and the NHS low income scheme,' he said. 'We therefore consider that the proposed uplifts in charges are fair and proportionate and will support NHS front line services.'

Dentist leaders condemned the rise and criticised the government over recent increases which have provided cover for what it described as sustained cuts in state contributions to NHS dentistry.

Net government expenditure on services in England has fallen by nearly £550 million in real terms since 2010, while charges levels have increased by over 30% to fill the gap, said the union.

Charges for complex NHS treatment over the past five years had risen four times faster in England than in Wales and fees for treatments in Bands 2 and 3 had gone up by 23% since 2014-15 in England.

The BDA said official statistics had shown that almost a fifth of patients had delayed treatment for reasons of cost.

BDA's Chair of General Dental Practice Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen said: 'Despite pledges of record NHS investment, our patients are being singled out to pay more, just so ministers can pay less.

'These inflation-busting hikes don't put a penny of new investment into this service, and will do nothing for patients unable to find an appointment, or the practices struggling to recruit staff. Dentists share the government's commitment to prevention, but we cannot make progress when low income, high needs patients keep being offered reasons not to attend.'

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NHS dental charges rise 5%. Br Dent J 226, 478 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-019-0225-7

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