I’ve just come back from the doctor’s. I’d gone to get come painkillers for my toothache. The receptionist told me that the doctor couldn’t see me.
“You need to see your dentist,” she said.
Of course I’d already been to see my dentist, who had taken an X-Ray, and told me that the nerve in one of my molars was dying. “You’ll just have to ride it out,” she said. “Once the nerve dies, the pain will stop.”
I was taking paracetamol and ibuprofen at that point, which barely touched the pain. It came in waves. It would start as a throb, and then build over several hours until it felt like my jaw was being prised apart by red hot pliers.
I asked if she could prescribe anything stronger.
“I can’t,” she said. “You’ll have to see your doctor.”
So what are you supposed to do? In order to see a dentist out of hours you have to ring 111, where you can be kept on hold for hours.
If you look on line, the advice, then, is to take painkillers. But over-the-counter painkillers don’t work, so you have to see your doctor. But doctors won’t come out on call out for dental pain. There’s a clear gap in the system.
Meanwhile, once you do get to see your dentist, you’ll be charged £22.70 merely for walking through the door. What if you’re broke or on benefits? The advice is to keep your receipts and claim the money back.
And if you haven’t got the money in the first place? There is no advice for that.
While you’re waiting to see the dentist you’ll also notice that they take up an inordinate amount of wall space warning you about attempting to cheat the system.
“Over 428,000 people received a penalty charge notice after claiming free dental care last year. Don’t assume you’re entitled,” says one poster.
Another says: “If you claim free NHS treatment that you’re not entitled to, you could be facing a penalty charge of up to £100.” The emphasis is theirs.
This is exactly what happened to a friend of mine. She’d been on benefits, including mobility allowance and income support, but had now reached pension age. She naturally assumed that her entitlement to free dental care would continue. She was wrong.
Being a pensioner isn’t enough. You have to be in receipt of pension credits too. At the time of her dental appointment she hadn’t yet made her claim, although she is entitled. Hence she’s fallen through a gap in the benefits system, caught in the space between two different departments.
The letter she received comes from an organisation called NHS Business Services Authority, and has a very threatening tone.
This is what it says:
“In accordance with the National Health Service (Penalty Charge) Regulation 1999, you are required to pay a penalty charge in addition to your unpaid dental treatment charge relating to the NHS dental services you received as detailed below.”
So she owes not just the £100 fine, but another £59.10 for the treatment. That’s almost as much as her total weekly pension.
The letter then goes on to tell her that she has to pay the money within 28 days, or she will be charged another £50 and sent a final warning.
If she fails to pay that her case will be passed on to the bailiffs.
This is a pensioner, and an ex-Nurse, who has given her best years in the service of the NHS.
As always, it is the poor and most vulnerable who are being made to pay.
From The Whitstable Gazette 30/05/19
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