That means, we will have to find the money to buy insurance to pay for our treatment, or stay sick. Once they have managed to achieve their goal, they will pay lip service to some sort of free medicine for the poor, or as they call them, hard-working families (on a minimum wage that doesn’t support anyone, properly).
I have recently come up against the way our NHS dentistry service works and it’s been a shock. There is clear guidance on the NHS England website, telling you exactly what you can expect to pay when you visit the dentist, if you are an NHS patient. I’ll repeat it – it’s clear what you should get and what you should pay. So, why was it that the only NHS specialist treatment available to me on NHS Band 2, meant travelling 200 miles from where I live to attend a dental hospital. The sort of treatment suggested would take several appointments – my dentist wasn’t sure how many – so that would mean several round trips of 200 miles. Why? Because, according to the practice manager, there were no dentists in my area who would be prepared to carry out this work on the NHS.
I was offered a consultation at a near-by practice at the cost of £210 for an hour. When I protested, I was offer another dentist, at a cost of £120 for the initial consultation. No treatment costs, but likely to run into several hundreds.
I stuck to my guns and said I wanted an NHS dentist and couldn’t afford to go private. The answer was the same. Travel the 200 miles to a teaching dental hospital (where, it seems, I would be a guinea pig for students overseen, thankfully, by a consultant) or go private.
Concerned, I contacted NHS England and asked for their advice. The rules are quite clear. All dentists have a responsibility, if they cannot do the work required, to find another NHS dentist within your area, who can. I was told by NHS England to go back to my dentist and ask for clarity. I was told to ask the practice manager why they could not refer me to an NHS specialist in my area and, did I really need the treatment?
My other concern was the attitude of the practice manager, whose reply to the above questions were as follows: The practice did not have the right equipment to carry out the work, the practice manager had had many conversations with the NHS and the issue was the lack of funding for NHS dentists. Finally, as a patient, I was, unfortunately, caught in the middle.
When I expressed my concern for the NHS, saying that if I could not find a dentist to treat me on the NHS, my long term health might be affected, the practice manager laughed, and told me I shouldn’t worry myself about the NHS!
I have no complaint with my dentist. Competent, caring and experienced, my dentist asked me to come back for a further free consultation. I was able to discuss the situation again and received the promise that more investigations would take place to try and find me an NHS specialist, who would carry out the work, in my area. That was reassuring. I agreed to help, by doing my own research and contacting NHS England again. But, I did write down my thoughts on the practice manager and his attitude and asked my dentist to pass them on, and take them on board.
I don’t like to acknowledge the unpleasant notion that NHS dentists are being underfunded and therefore, need to persuade patients to go private. I don’t like to think that maybe, if you need a referral, this is how they may encourage you to become a private patient. I don’t want to even consider that NHS dentists may have subtle pressure put on them by practice owners, to encourage patients to leave the NHS and ‘go private’. Private fees are astronomical, if you need more than a quick check-up and you don’t have insurance. NHS dentistry is not free at the point of delivery, but increasingly, I feel a subtle pressure on me, to become a private patient, because my NHS dentist is not able to refer me to a specialist, unless I paid private fees.
Not many people of my age will contradict what a person in a white coat tells them. If told they need to go private, many will either not go to the dentist again, or get into debt to comply. Signing up to an insurance policy may not be possible for people living on pensions, but not poor enough to be eligible for benefits. The notion that everyone with grey hair is either ga-ga and will accept whatever they are told, or are wealthy enough to pay hundreds of pounds for treatment – because, after all, we are the generation that own our own houses and had our university fees paid for, with grants – is all wrong.
I know the NHS is not a bottomless pit. However, there is a general perception that anyone older than fifty will be a huge drain on services, in the coming years. Mixed messages are not the answer. People of my age HAVE paid for our health provision, we have paid throughout our lives, so why should we be expected to collude with this subtle destruction of one of this country’s greatest and most innovative reforms – free healthcare at the point of delivery.
Good teeth are one of the most important indicators of general good health. As far as dentistry is concerned, adults have had to pay a share, and that must continue, but the pressure to ‘go private’ is growing and how soon will we start to accept that ‘private’ is the norm?