Will the latest proposed changes to NHS dental services make it easier to find an NHS dentist? A recent report by Professor Jimmy Steele of Newcastle University found that NHS funding of dentists should changed to encourage them to take more patients onto their lists and to focus their work on prevention as much as treatment.

This follows the controversial changes of 2006 when NHS dentists were no longer paid per treatment, but were paid a flat rate based on the amount of work they were contracted to do for the year. The new contracts proved unpopular with dentists and 2000 of them left the NHS when they were introduced in April 2006. Professor Steele’s review found that the reforms had, in some cases, led to dentists recalling patients too often and opting for unnecessarily expensive treatments.

Professor Steele’s report recommends that a significant part of dentists’ income (up to 50%) should come from the number of patients on their lists and also that dentists should be held accountable for work that is not good enough. Dentists would be encouraged to take on new patients and to build up relations with existing ones. They would have a responsibility to ensure that people understand about oral health and the importance of diet. The report also recommends what is essentially a 3 year warranty for dental operations so that a dentist would not be paid twice if remedial work had to be carried out within this time.

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, has accepted the proposals ‘in principle’ and has also admitted some of the criticism of the 2006 reforms.