On May 29, 2012, the UK Office of Fair Trading (the "OFT") published a report following its market study into the UK dentistry market. The market study was launched in September 2011, under section 5 of the Enterprise Act 2002, to examine whether the private and National Health Service ("NHS") dentistry markets in the UK are working well for patients.
The OFT's study found that the dentistry market in the UK is not always working in the best interests of patients. In particular the OFT's report highlights the following concerns:
- Patients have insufficient information to make informed decisions about their choice of dentist and treatments. Furthermore, some patients may be provided with inaccurate information regarding their entitlement to receive particular treatments on the NHS.
- The majority of current NHS dental contracts in England are not time-limited and only a small volume of new contracts are tendered each year, preventing the establishment of new dental practices and the expansion of successful established practices, while allowing under-performing practices to remain profitable.
Restrictions preventing patients from directly accessing dental care professionals, such as hygienists, without a referral from a dentist are unjustified and likely to reduce patient choice and competition.
Although the OFT considers that a reference to the Competition Commission for a more extensive market investigation is not necessary at this time, it has made wide-ranging recommendations to address its concerns, including
- Regulatory bodies enforce existing rules requiring dentists to provide timely, clear and accurate information to patients about prices and treatments.
- The NHS dental contract be reformed to facilitate easier entry of new dental practices and the expansion of existing successful practices in the market.
- Restrictions should be removed to allow patients direct access to dental care professionals.
- The dental complaints procedure should be reformed to make it simpler and less time consuming for both patients and dentists.
- The development of a code of practice covering the sale of dental payment plans.
The OFT is inviting comments on its provisional decision and recommendations until July 10, 2012.
For the OFT's press release, click here. Rod Lambert and Nicola Birney