Free dental treatments in West Norfolk drop by 46 per cent
The number of free NHS dental treatments in West Norfolk has almost halved over the last five years, new figures reveal.
Dentists in the West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group area administered 11,327 courses of treatment in 2018-19 to adults exempt from charges, NHS Digital figures show.
Free treatments, which are offered to low-income groups, elderly people, pregnant women and full-time students, have dropped by 46 per cent since 2013-14.
Across England, the number of free procedures fell by a quarter over the same period.
Without an exemption, adults have to pay a charge to visit the dentist, which varies depending on the type of treatment received.
Band 1 procedures, such as check-ups and examinations, and urgent operations to address severe pain or risk of deterioration both cost £21.60 per treatment.
Band 2 treatments, such as fillings, extractions and root canals, cost £59.10, while Band 3 procedures, such as crowns, dentures and dental bridges, cost £256.50.
In West Norfolk, dentists did not charge their patients for 18% of the courses of treatment carried out in 2018-19.
Free Band 3 procedures have seen the largest drop, falling by 49% over the last five years.
The number of paid treatments offered in the area has also dropped, but far less sharply – 51,000 treatments incurred a fee last year, a seven per cent drop on 2013-14. They brought in a total of £2.1 million for the NHS.
Misclaiming free care can lead to automatic fines of up to £100.
The British Dental Association said nationally nearly 400,000 patients a year, including those with learning disabilities, have received fines, some simply for ticking the wrong box.
Charlotte Waite, from the BDA, said: “People will keep falling foul of a confusing system which won’t give an inch if you make an honest mistake.
“Sadly, the adults and children now failing to attend are precisely those who could benefit most.”
“Ministers should be rolling out the red carpet for these patients, not providing reasons to bottle up oral health problems.”
The policy in England is in stark contrast with those in other UK nations – in Scotland and Northern Ireland, patients do not receive fines for mistakenly claiming support for NHS care.
The Department for Health and Social Care maintained that it is right to recoup money lost from people incorrectly claiming exemption from prescription and dental charges.
A spokesperson said: “We want every single person to have access to high quality dental care, and we have a number of clear, unchanged exemptions in place to protect those who cannot pay – including those on low incomes.
“If anyone receives a penalty charge notice incorrectly, there are procedures in place to challenge the decision and have the penalty withdrawn.”
More by this authorMark Leslie