Wednesday 10 August 2022
“It is £30 for a check-up and we take payment in advance.”
I am momentarily frozen on the other end of the line. I am about to join a private dental practice and the immediate mention of cold, hard cash (well electronically transferred funds) brings home the reality that I am now paying for health care. Have I sold my soul to the devil?
This particular practice actually invited me in, after they met me as an emergency patient a few weeks ago. On this occasion, I had lost a filling and, co-incidentally, discovered to my dismay that I had also lost my place with the NHS dentist. After experimenting with home remedies, a work colleague suggested plugging the gap with chewing gum and I bunged in some gunk from the internet, I eventually resigned myself to taking an appointment with anyone who could help, waved my credit card at the smiling receptionist and left with a very secure (and very expensive) new amalgam.
Thereafter, I resolved to find a new NHS practice and ‘re-join the dental system‘. And so when the private practitioners emailed me with an invite to ‘sign on’ to their books, I initially ignored it.
Alas, getting back into the national system proved trickier than I thought. Countless calls and google searches confirmed that nobody… but nobody is taking on new patients. And so for a while I just parked the issue and forgot about my teeth. Smallboy, unlike me, had not been turfed out of the local practice. If he was okay, in true single parent fashion, I resolved to ‘just muddle on’.
‘Perhaps,’ I reason, ‘if there are no places and everyone seems happy to accept this, then dental care cannot be that important. Maybe the occasional emergency appointment is the way to go?‘
On Monday of this week, however the BBC report, ‘Full extent of NHS dentistry shortage revealed by far-reaching BBC research’, reveals, not only that 9 out of 10 NHS practices are not taking on new adult patients but also that this has lead to an alarming rise in ‘DIY dentistry‘. People pulling out their own teeth, restricting their diets to little more than soup and making improvised dentures. When I hear a man on the radio describing how he was forced to extract 2 teeth with pliers …. arghhhh…. I am forced to review my thoughts on dental care and I reluctantly re-read the email from the private practice.
I also review their costs because, let’s be clear, NHS dentistry is not ‘free‘ for adults, indeed free treatment ended in 1951, just three years after the NHS was formed, because it was deemed unaffordable, however the pricing is subsidised and pretty simple with only 3 charge bands.
|Band 1: £23.80||covers an examination, diagnosis, advice including x-rays, a scale and polish|
|Band 2: £62.50||covers all treatment in band 1 plus additional treatments such as fillings, root canal and extractions|
|Band 3: £282.80||covers all treatment in bands 1 and 2 , plus more complex procedures such as crowns, dentures and bridges|
Yikes; I quickly discover that the private costs are a lot higher, in particular because there is no inclusion of previous costs in their pricing structure, so those bills just accumulate! Nonetheless, as I rattle around the kitchen this morning, I do come across a pair of pliers. It’s surely a sign. I need to spend some money on myself … just this once…
So I make the call and pay the examination fee.
At the end of much prodding and x-raying, I find that I do need a filling. As it is quite pricey, I elect to postpone treatment for a while, at least until my August pay check lands. It has been an expensive month for me with all 3 teens temporarily back at home, some modest trips away and a couple of birthdays. Doubtless though, at some point in the Autumn, I shall find the money and add yet more metal to my molars.
But I resent having to wait and I resent having to make health decision based not upon my wellbeing but upon my bank balance. The reasons for the current crisis I do not really fathom but I find incredibly sad. Is this, as the BBC report challenges, ‘The death of NHS Dentistry?’ It is certainly not the vision of national health care free that I hold dear.
For what of those who cannot pay at all? Worrying times …