The Office of Fair Trading has launched a market study to see if the private and NHS dentistry markets are working well for patients.
The UK market for dental services was worth £7.2 billion in 2010. Forecasts suggest this could grow to £8.2 billion by 2014 with much of the growth coming from the private market. While the OFT recognises that the UK has some of the highest standards of oral care in the world, it wants to examine concerns raised by consumer bodies such as Which? that many patients are confused over dental treatments and prices.
The study will focus on how dentistry services are sold, whether patients are given appropriate information to help them choose between dental practices, the types of treatments on offer and different payment methods in the context of both NHS and private dentistry. It will also look at how easy it is to change dentists, and whether the current system for customer redress works.
The study will also examine whether there are any unnecessary barriers to new practices entering either private or NHS funded markets, and consider the issue of professional restrictions on direct access to specialists or providers of auxiliary services, such as hygienists.
Sonya Branch of the OFT says,” Patients appear to be confused about the prices they are being charged and concerns have been raised that they may not be getting sufficient information or adequate choice over the dental treatments they receive. The costs of private dental treatment in England are among the highest in Europe. Given the current strains on people's finances, we think it is a good time to examine whether competition is working effectively to drive up the quality of private and NHS dental services and deliver better value for money for consumers.”
The OFT will work with the General Dental Council, the Department of Health, the Care Quality Commission and others during the course of its study. It will also seek representations from dentistry providers and trade bodies.
The OFT plans to complete the study by March 2012.