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UK dentists warn on service as deal deadline looms

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 1 (Reuters) Dentists warned the government that it could be harder to get treatment on the NHS as a deadline loomed for them to sign up to new contracts.

The British Dental Association yesterday said almost two-thirds of dentists in areas they surveyed were only giving provisional agreement to the contracts, reserving the right to dispute the terms.

That could lead to some dentists turning to private work and refusing to treat patients on the NHS, adding the existing difficulty of finding an NHS dentist in some areas of the country. But Health Minister Rosie Winterton told the BBC that the ''vast majority'' of dentists were signing up to the new agreement, which takes force from April 1.

''The majority of them believe this is a good contract,'' she said. ''We are offering, on average, for a dentist with a high commitment to the NHS, an average of 80,000 pounds a year, plus practice expenses, which is guaranteed for three years, for five percent less work.'' The new contracts are part of a wider reform which puts local primary care trusts in charge of dental funding so they can avoid shortages when dentists quit or move away.

To fill gaps in dental provision, the government has recruited foreign dentists and opened more dentistry schools, taking the number of NHS dentists to almost 21,000 from under 17,000 in 1997.

But dentists dislike the new arrangements which require them to complete a target amount of work to get a fixed income.

They say it is worse than their already unpopular existing contracts, where they were paid for each piece of work.

''The current system was compared to a treadmill by the Audit Commission. Practitioners feel they're being moved from one treadmill to another,'' said the British Dental Association.

Payments will be fixed for three years, which the BDA said will discourage dentists from taking on extra patients.

REUTERS CS RK0825

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