National Audit Office to investigate unfair NHS penalty charges
The National Audit Office will conduct an investigation into whether hundreds of thousands of people have been unfairly fined for wrongly claiming free dental treatment. The investigation, due to start this spring, follows claims that many have received undue penalties, often simply for ticking the wrong box on a form.
This inquiry has been welcomed by the British Dental Association who have said that these fines have scared poor families and vulnerable patients, stopping them from visiting the dentist. Freedom of information requests show that 724,635 penalty fines were issued between 2014 and 2017. Of these fines, 210,972 were paid while 174,679 were revoked; an exemption rate of 24 per cent.
The BDA have said that almost 430,000 fines were issued last year alone, many of which were caused “simply for ticking the wrong box on claim forms.” Of the people that are unfairly charged, they state that most are “on very low incomes, the elderly, and those with learning difficulties.” They estimate that nine out of ten of these penalties are overturned when challenged.
Beyond the financial constraints these fines can cause, the BDA have also cautioned that they can deter people from receiving the dental care they need. In the last five years, there has been a tenfold increase in the total number of fines; in the last four years, the number of dental visits from those who are entitled to free treatment has decreased by almost a quarter.
The chair of BDA, Charlotte Waite, stated that: “The government’s approach to penalty charges has hit hundreds of thousands of vulnerable patients, and encourage millions more to miss out on care. Yes, we need a system to protect taxpayers’ money, but that does not mean constructing a hostile environment for patients, many of whom have complex needs.”
Responding to the statistics published above, Waite said “It’s ludicrous that nearly as many appeals are won as penalties are actually 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.”