Earlier this week I followed the critical press coverage of the way that some dentists are charging their patients. It certainly made a change from reading or listening to the regular doctor bashing in the press. It seems that some dentists are failing to point out to their patients that the treatment they receive is available on the NHS, at a fraction of the price of the bill that they receive on the way out of the dentist’s surgery. The example of root canal filling highlighted that whilst a dentist is allowed to charge £48 for this as NHS treatment, they routinely charge around £400 for the same treatment, by the same dentist, in the same chair but as private work.
It seems that the public have accepted that the dentists who look after the health of their patient’s teeth, will charge expensive fees. If you are a doctor looking after the health of every other part of the body however, apparently you should be far more altruistic. I watched Andrew Lansley on the news last night, trying hard to put on a pained look of exasperation at those greedy doctors. He explained that a junior doctor starting in 3 years time would retire (aged 68? 70? 75????) with an annual pension of over £60 000. Hang on. That is nearly 50 years from now! The whole point of the current dispute is that the government want to go back on the pension deal agreed in 2007. If they can not stick to a 5 year deal then how on earth are we supposed to believe that they will honour one in 50 years time?
Only the highest achieving students are accepted to medical school. They face many years of intensive study and professional development. The result is that doctors are one of the most highly trained, highly skilled groups of professionals. It is not only expected but it is right and proper that doctors are well paid. Of course every doctor has a desire to help patients. Most also have a desire to be a respected, well paid professional, receiving adequate recognition for the fact that fewer than 1% of the working population are able to do the job that they do. These desires are not and should not be mutually exclusive.
This government, just like previous governments, continues to chip away at the professional and financial benefits that doctors receive in the NHS. I can see a situation in the future where more doctors will replace this lost financial reward by working privately. How long before we have a system where GPs can mix NHS consultations with private consultations? How long before the barrier between “free at the point of entry” and “pay a little bit for your appointment” breaks down. How long before we are on the slippery slope to dentistry?