Private dentists may be misleading patients over their entitlement to NHS treatment, an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) study has found.
The delayed report suggested that around 500,000 dental patients may be getting inaccurate information each year, with much of it aimed at getting patients to go private.
It comes after the OFT announced a market study of UK dentistry last September following concerns raised by consumer bodies like Which?.
The report, which was originally supposed to be published in March, confirmed the dentistry market is “not always working in the best interests of patients”.
In noted, for example, continued restrictions that prevent patients from directly accessing dental care professionals, such as hygienists, without a referral from a dentist. The OFT said that these restrictions could “dampen competition”.
Other issues of concern included the complexity of the complaints process for patients and instances of potential pressure selling by dentists of dental payment plans.
Calling for an overhaul of the dentistry market, the OFT urged the Department of Health to redesign the NHS dental contract to facilitate easier entry into the market by new dental practices and expansion by successful practices. It noted that most contracts are not time-limited, and only a small volume are put out to tender each year.
The OFT also recommended that NHS commissioning bodies, the General Dental Council, and the Care Quality Commission be “proactive in enforcing existing rules”. This means ensuring that dental practices provide timely, clear and accurate information to patients about prices and available dental treatments.
And it urged the General Dental Council to remove restrictions that prevent patients from making appointments to see dental hygienists, therapists and clinical dental technicians directly.
John Fingleton (pictured
), OFT chief executive, said: “Our study has raised significant concerns about the UK dentistry market which need to be tackled quickly in the interest of patients. All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment.
“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.”