Feature – Focus on healthcare: Staff demand dental fill ins

This month’s revamp to the NHS’s 50-year-old charging structure may force the remaining public health dentists over to the private sector, says Nick Golding

  • If you read nothing else, read this ...

  • On 1 April 2006, a new government contract was introduced that will also affect the charging structure for National Health Service dentistry.

  • The new contract may encourage more NHS dentists to move to private practice.
  • The diminishing availability of NHS dentists means some providers of corporate dental care are experiencing sales increases of up to 30%.This could change the shape of corporate dental products, with providers predicting the launch of more standalone plan

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Images of endless queues outside dental surgeries have become commonplace in national newspapers. With access to National Health Service (NHS) dentistry becoming sparser than ever, employers are being encouraged to re-think the benefits they offer to employees.

To make matters worse, a new government contract, which updates the NHS’s 50-year-old charging structure, comes into effect this month that may drive remaining NHS dentists over to the private sector, causing longer queues and even more demand for affordable dental care.

Providers of corporate dental schemes are looking to capitalise on this migration of NHS dentists, and report that even prior to the contract coming into effect, business has never been so good. Pam Whelan, corporate sales manager at Denplan, says: "Of course it is not a bad change for us, it is a springboard into new business, and while we saw a 10% increase in business last year, we are predicting a 30% increase this year."

A change in the way employers are looking to source such benefits suggests that the popularity of dental plans may not be short lived. According to providers, organisations are beginning to approach them with queries about dental cover rather than the other way around.

"We are seeing more employers ringing to tell us that staff are requesting dental cover. Dental care is being pushed up the priority list of benefits, which has never happened before," explains Whelan.

Human resources departments are keen to keep up with employee demands, and make sure their employee benefits package is a competitive one. Derry Andrews, managing director at Goodhealth, explains: "Large employers with [influential] human resources departments will always be thinking about reducing staff turnover and ensuring they have a competitive benefits package. Clearly, dental care is a problem at the moment so employers are looking to do more for their staff and try to stay one step ahead of the game," he says.

VT Group, the ship building and support services firm, has reacted to the changes, and from 1 April, will have a dental plan in place for its 6,500 employees to coincide with the new government contract. John Halladay, group reward manager, explains: "We conducted an employee survey to help us decide on new benefits and for the first time dental care came near the top of the list."

He adds that members of staff were requesting corporate dental cover because they simply could not gain access to an NHS dentist. "It is just so hard to find an NHS dentist these days, and what was usually taken for granted no longer can be, so a dental plan was something we felt we had to offer," says Halladay.