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New NHS contracting pilots launched

The Department of Health (DoH) has announced that 62 practices across England will become pilots for two prototypes for reform of NHS dental contracting.

The changes are being made in a bid to move NHS dentistry away from purely fixing problems to a more comprehensive approach that includes preventing future disease, which can be more cost-effective.

However, the new models have attracted criticism from the British Dental Association (BDA), on account of the fact that the reforms will continue to use units of dental activity (UDA) to judge the success of dentists, as well as to determine payment.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “At last we seem to be moving forward on a reformed dental contract, but it is still too early to describe today’s launch as progress.

“The BDA believes that the two prototype options on offer are decidedly unambitious, as the Department has proved unwilling to make a clean break from discredited activity targets in the shape of the UDA system. Both NHS dentists and their patients deserve a contract with a square focus on prevention, and neither option being tested goes far enough in meeting that objective.”

Instead, the organisation favours new contracts based entirely on capitation, instead of combining it with UDA. Further pilot schemes for these and other prototypes are expected to be announced in the coming months.

Addressing concerns about the planned reforms, health minister Lord Howe, acknowledged that the process was taking longer than many had hoped. He said: “I understand this frustration but I hope there is understanding of why we have taken a measured approach. The reform we are proposing is groundbreaking.”
He added that this balanced approach was intended to ensure that primary NHS dental care in England was of the highest-possible quality. He hoped it would be beneficial for all sectors of the population, and ensure that practices were equipped to deal with the country’s changing oral health needs.

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