The NHS is demanding payment for dental treatment from thousands of innocent West Yorkshire residents each year – even though they are entitled to free care.
Over the past three years the NHS has sent some 36,077 penalty notices to people demanding payment for their dental treatment plus a penalty of up to £100.
However, only a fraction of these notices, some 11,132 in total, have been paid, while 9,015 were successfully challenged because the patient was entitled to free care.
The British Dental Association (BDA) blamed a “totally indiscriminate” approach to issuing the fines, and said it was “ludicrous” that the rate of successful appeals was so high.
Charlotte Waite from the BDA said: “Yes, we need robust measures to ensure NHS funds are properly spent. Sadly, tough talk on rooting out fraud has gone hand-in-hand with a totally indiscriminate approach to fines.
“It’s ludicrous that nearly as many appeals are won as penalties are paid. These fines are now hitting hundreds of thousands of patients, many who are vulnerable or on low incomes, who have simply done nothing wrong.
“Government really needs to be encouraging attendance at NHS dentists, not designing policies to put the ‘frighteners’ into patients who are fully entitled to claim.
“We need to end the ‘fine roulette’, with straightforward forms, and proper signposting.
“Those eligible for free dentistry shouldn’t face £100 penalties by default just for ticking the wrong box.”
A spokesperson for the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), which runs the checks, said: “The NHS loses millions each year through fraudulent and incorrect claims for dental treatment.
“On behalf of NHS England, the NHSBSA checks claims at random in order to verify entitlement to free treatment and issue a penalty charge notice where no valid exemption can be identified.
“We encourage all patients to check their entitlement before claiming free dental treatment.”
There are several different circumstances that can mean you don’t have to pay for a dentist from the health service, such as if you are on certain benefits or are in full-time education and aged 16 to 18.
The NHSBSA checks patients’ entitlements against its own records and Department for Work and Pensions data.
The remaining claims that haven’t been paid yet or successfully challenged are outstanding and ‘subject to further recovery action’, it said.