£130 million raised as NHS fines run “out of control” says BDA
Case of teenager with a mental age of two "emblematic of policy failure" says BDA
The British Dental Association (BDA) has called on ministers to reign in their increasingly aggressive approach to fining vulnerable patients, as new figures reveal record-breaking revenues from penalty charges for ‘misclaiming’ free NHS care. Dentist leaders have described the case of Aimee Morrow, reported in the Sunday Times, as emblematic of a policy now running hopelessly out of control.
The teenager from Gateshead with the mental age of two, was wrongly accused of misclaiming, and threatened with surcharges for non-payment. Revenues for fines covering exemptions from prescriptions and dental charges totalled £37.6 million in 2018, with a total of nearly £130 million since 2014 (£128.6m).
The number of fines of at least £100 issued for misclaiming dental care has gone up more than tenfold in the last five years, from 33,887 in 2012/13 to 427,238 in 2017/18. Of the cases appealed, 90% are won. The fines often hit patients on very low incomes, the elderly, and those with learning difficulties, many simply for ticking the wrong box on complex claim forms.
The latest NHS Dental Statistics revealed a collapse in attendance among patients who are exempt from paying NHS dental charges – a fall of two million treatments delivered to patients exempt from NHS charges since 2013/14 – 23% in four years. The BDA has expressed deep concerns that the government has cultivated a hostile environment for vulnerable and low-income patients in a bid to keep costs down.
The National Audit Office recently launched an investigation into penalty charge notices handed out across the health service.
Charlotte Waite, Chair of the British Dental Association's England Community Dental Services Committee said: “Ministers are doubling down on an approach that's hit hundreds of thousands of vulnerable patients; and encouraged millions more to miss out on care.
“Aimee Morrow’s case is emblematic of a policy that's now running hopelessly out of control. Exemptions are meant to offer a helping hand to those who need NHS dentistry the most. But for too many patients the reality is a £100 fine for ticking the wrong box on a form.
"The best way to protect NHS budgets is to provide people making claims with clarity and support. Government needs to do more than offer threats, fines and confusion."