§ Mr. Norris
To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement about any outstanding overpayment to dentists.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
In 1988–89, net payments to general dental practitioners averaged some £4,874 per dentist in excess of the intended level. I have considered carefully the various factors which led to this overpayment in the light of the concerns expressed by the profession about the size and circumstances of the overpayment.
The principal reasons for the overpayment were that the calculation of the 1988 dental fee scale was based on forecasts which over-estimated dentists' practice expenses and underestimated the volume of treatment to be undertaken by dentists. Some degree of forecasting error in both these areas is inevitable and is corrected under the normal balancing arrangements. In fact, an initial instalment of £598 was recovered in respect of the 1988–89 overpayment in the normal manner in the 1991–92 fee settlement.
A third factor was a large-scale increase in 1988–89 in the rate of processing at the Dental Practice Board which processes dentists' claims for payment. I have decided that this special factor, which was exceptional and once and for all, should be excluded from the sum to be recovered.
I have therefore decided to waive £1,529 of the 1988–89 overpayment per dentist because of this exceptional factor —a sum equivalent to £23 million for Great Britain. The normal conventions of the balancing mechanism will be applied to the balance.
I believe that this represents a constructive and substantial response to the profession's concerns. We shall be reviewing procedures with a view to avoiding such large scale variations in processing rates in the future and to insulate the dentists' pay system from these. I am also inviting the profession to discuss with us the remuneration system more generally in the light of the Government's policy on performance pay set out in the citizens charter.