By Daniel Hunter

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today (Tuesday) called for major changes to the £5.73bn UK dentistry market after a market study found that it is not always working in the best interests of patients.

The OFT study found that patients have insufficient information to make informed decisions about their choice of dentist and the dental treatments they receive.

Alongside this, a new survey conducted as part of the study suggests that each year around 500,000 patients may be provided with inaccurate information by dentists regarding their entitlement to receive particular dental treatments on the NHS, and as a result they may pay more to receive private dental treatment.

The report also raises concerns about continued restrictions preventing patients from directly accessing dental care professionals, such as hygienists, without a referral from a dentist. The OFT considers these restrictions to be unjustified and likely to reduce patient choice and dampen competition.

The OFT also highlights concerns with the current NHS dental contracts in England. As the majority of these contracts are not time-limited, and only a small volume of new contracts are put out to tender each year, it is extremely difficult for new dental practices to be established, and successful dental practices which offer a higher quality of service to NHS patients are prevented from expanding.

Other issues of concern highlighted in the report include the complexity of the complaints process for patients and instances of potential pressure selling by dentists of dental payment plans.

"Our study has raised significant concerns about the UK dentistry market which need to be tackled quickly in the interest of patients," John Fingleton, OFT Chief Executive said.

"All too often patients lack access to the information they need, for example when choosing a dentist or when getting dental treatment. We also unearthed evidence that some patients may be receiving deliberately inaccurate information about their entitlement to NHS dental treatment, and we expect to see robust action taken against such potential misconduct by dentists.

"This study has also highlighted that the current NHS dental contract in England may well not be working in the best interests of patients, and that regulations unjustifiably restrict patients from getting direct access to dental care professionals like hygienists. Reform in both these areas is needed without delay."

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