Dental service funding gap

MARK NICHOLLS By Mark NichollsHealth CorrespondentDental patients have had difficulty getting treatment in some parts of Norfolk after figures revealed that a new contract for NHS dentists has left Norfolk Primary Care Trust facing a £3m funding gap.

MARK NICHOLLS

By Mark Nicholls

Health Correspondent

Dental patients have had difficulty getting treatment in some parts of Norfolk after figures revealed that a new contract for NHS dentists has left Norfolk Primary Care Trust facing a £3m funding gap.

The cash-strapped PCT - which is facing a £47m deficit - was expecting almost £12m to come in from dentists under the patient charge revenue system but only about £9m was forthcoming.

But the shortfall has led the PCT to plug the gap by using money initially allocated to dentists who had taken the decision to go private. However, the knock-on effect has seen less funds available to ensure all patients get the treatment they need.

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Dentists have blamed the Department of Health for failing to test the system before introducing it but have also been critical of Norfolk PCT for using money to off-set the funding shortfall rather than invest in patient care.

Figures released by the Liberal Democrats this week show that nationally, the shortfall to PCTs has been £56m with 86 of the 152 PCTs affected.

North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb said: “The new dental contract has been a disaster for local health trusts as well as for people looking in vain for an NHS dentist.

“As NHS trusts desperately move money around to fill the gap created by the dental contract, the axe will be swinging over so-called 'soft targets' such as sexual health treatment, alcohol services and immunisation. With sexually transmitted diseases and alcohol abuse in young people on the rise, this is not a shortcut we can afford to take.”

The national survey showed that 40 dentists ended contracts before the end of the year and about 55 stopped NHS service as they had run out of the Units of Dental Activity, on which they are given money to provide NHS work.

Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee said: “When the government set up the new contract, it did not pilot the process properly and this left the PCTs with a shortfall.

“Some PCTs that are not under such financial pressures as Norfolk PCT were able to take money from other parts of their budget to offset the shortfall but in Norfolk it was not possible to do that.”

Norfolk LDC is concerned that the PCT took money it feel should have gone on dental care for patients to off-set the shortfall and is raising the issue at its national conference in June.

Norfolk PCT finance director David Stonehouse, said: “We did have a £3.1m shortfall in the dental patient charge revenue for the financial year 2006/07. The impact of the shortfall has unfortunately meant that the PCT has had to put on hold a tendering exercise to recommission money gained from some practices that left the NHS in 2006.

“The PCT appreciates that this may have caused some problems for patients to access dental treatment.”

But he said that the trust has increased funding from the DoH for 07/08 in acknowledgment of the patient charge revenue issue.

“We hope that this will result in the PCT being able to commission extra NHS dental care in Norfolk,” added Mr Stonehouse.