Free courses of dental treatment fall by a third in West Suffolk

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The number of free courses of dental treatment provided by NHS dentists in West Suffolk has fallen by almost a third in the last 5 years, new figures have confirmed. 

Figures from NHS Digital suggest that dentists working within the area managed by West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group provided 19,533 courses of free treatment to eligible adults in 2018/2019. This figure equates to a decrease of 32% since 2013/2014. Free treatments are available for pregnant women, full-time students, patients on low incomes and some elderly people. 

The British Dental Association attributes the decrease in provision to aggressive tactics employed by the government, which are resulting in patients being too scared to go to the dentist and claim free treatment. The number of patients fined for attempting to wrongfully claim free care has sky-rocked in recent years, with the vast majority of people receiving letters after making innocent mistakes on the paperwork. 

The situation in West Suffolk is representative of a national trend, with figures falling by around a quarter across England. 

Without exemption, NHS dental patients are expected to pay fees of £22.70 for band 1 treatments, £62.10 for band 2 treatments, and £269.30 for band 3 treatments. 

The British Dental Association stated that up to 400,000 patients receive fines for making simple errors, for example, ticking the wrong box, every year. Fining vulnerable people is fuelling low attendance rates and preventing those who are eligible for free dental care from visiting their dentist on a regular basis, according to Charlotte Waite, from the BDA. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said that there are clear methods used to help people claim free dental care and maintained that it was very simple to appeal against wrongful fines.

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