As we all know, a new NHS contract has been mooted for the last three or four years. The major problem that the Government currently appears to be struggling with is that, for all its flaws, the current system very precisely provides control over the spend.
So the Government is trying to implement a new contract whilst retaining this same level of control. However, it is very difficult to envisage a system that will allow them to do that and satisfy the dental profession.
For the last few years, everything seems to have been focused on reducing spending on NHS dentistry. This can be seen with both GDS and PDS contracts. As the PDS contracts come up for renewal the LATs are taking a much harder stance and reducing values wherever they can.
There was a time, a number of years ago, when over 50% of practices had not achieved their UDA target on a regular basis and yet no action had been taken by PCTs to recoup any monies. This was certainly the case for the first five years of the current contract; however, one of the changes we have seen recently is a significantly stronger focus on performance. So that now if a practice does not hit targets, not only will the LAT recoup the money but they will seize every opportunity to reduce the contract value, either by decreasing the number of UDAs or lessening the UDA value.
Under any new contract, if there is one, underperformance and failure to achieve KPIs is going to lead to a similar situation. Whilst the latest prototype proposed contains remuneration based on capitation, the number of patients that you have registered, the work performed and some for achieving KPIs, the potential risk for missing these targets is a massive 10%. Nevertheless, a lot of the essential details here remain unknown.
In some ways the most concerning part about the change in contract is the notion it might be time limited. This completely fails to recognise the investment that dentists have to put into practices, not only in terms of equipment, but also regarding the time spent building a good dental business. To fit out a dental practice is a very significant cost, and nobody is going to do that if there is a contract that only lasts for five years – over that period one is not going to get back that which one has paid out, never mind actually make any money!
It seems, whether stated or unstated, that it is the Government’s clear intention to reduce spending on NHS dentistry. To achieve this, perhaps all they would have to do is introduce time limited contracts and there would be a very large shift away from NHS ownership towards private.
And this, in my opinion, is what the Government wants. They need to save money and whilst they talk about the NHS in hallowed terms, I’m not so sure that NHS dentistry is quite so hallowed as the rest of it.
John Grant of Goodman Grant Lawyers for Dentists