The reply to my FOI request on the matter popped up in my inbox yesterday, the relevant highlights being (emphasis mine):
[What is the] official Department of Health guidance to dentists on the procedure for dealing with patients who refuse, or are unwilling to divulge, details of their tobacco consumption and/or weekly alcohol unitary intake?By 'no further action', one assumes that dentists are supposed to respect the patient's decision and carry on regardless.
The Department has not issued any guidance. As stated above, it is not a mandatory requirement but good practice for dentists to collect information on patients’ tobacco consumption and alcohol intake. The dentist will take no further action where the patient declines.
Which wasn't the experience of Snakey in the comments last month.
I restated that I did not wish to fill the form in. After I had sat down one of the receptionists went off to tell my dentist about my lack of form filling obedience, like the good little drone she was. When she came back she imperiously demanded that I step towards the reception desk. She then told me that my dentist would not treat me unless I filled the form in. I walked out.Indeed, so why are dentists under the impression that such info is to be treated as mandatory despite the DH saying that it isn't?
I now have no dentist as I still refuse to fill in the form. I don't actually drink but that's beside the point. They have no right to refuse me treatment just because I won't go along with their little game.
The FOI reply pointed to this document [pdf], issued to all dentists last year, which contains chapters on 'Stop smoking guidance' (p.38) and 'Alcohol misuse support' (p.40-41). In the case of smoking, the advice to dentists is:
• All patients should have their smoking status (current, ex-, never smoked) established and checked at regular intervals. This information should be recorded in the patient’s clinical notes.Interestingly, however, there is no mention at all of cataloguing the alcohol intake of dental patients, just the usual rehashing of recommended units which, as we know, are about as scientific as 'think-of-a-number-and-halve-it'.
• All smokers and those chewing tobacco should be advised of the value of stopping and the risks to their health of continuing. The advice should be clear, firm and personalised. It is essential that the message to all smokers is complete cessation
• All smokers should be advised on the value of attending their local NHS Stop Smoking Services for specialised help in stopping. Smokers who are interested and motivated to stop should be referred to these services.
'Tis true, then. There is nothing in DH guidance that demands dentists take such info before affording treatment. Especially in the case of alcohol where they aren't even advised to record it in the first place.
And nowhere is it even hinted that treatment should be denied entirely.
The British Dental Health Foundation, however, replied to my query on the subject with an attempted explanation as to why dentists do so, albeit one which doesn't hold much water.
If the dentist is unable to access the information he may feel necessary to maintain your oral health and dental care he could decide that he would therefore be unable to treat you.A trifle melodramatic, doncha think? Considering that the BDHF point out that the data is used by dentists to "look out for any signs for early detection" of oral cancer, one presumes they could check for those signs equally well, with or without knowing the patient's drinking and smoking habits, simply by assuming the worst. Especially since, as VGIF highlighted, oral cancer is a rare occurrence anyway.
A bigger clue presented itself in a reply from a representative of the Dental Professionals Association (the 'sniffy' one), though. Targets.
Dentists have had a number of performance indicators added to their contracts, including smoking cessation targets. We know that manipulation of the contract in this way does give rise to odd side-effects however we have not come across the problem you describe.Which makes me rather more of an expert on patients being denied treatment than a body employed in the industry itself. Three commenters here pointed to either being refused or being effectively bullied (my experience), yet the DPA have never heard of such a thing. How odd.
In summation, while it is clear that NHS dentists are refusing treatment for patient non-declaration of smoking status and alcohol unitary intake, they aren't mandated to do so under current DH guidelines.
I'll leave the last word on this to Sam Duncan who articulated my thoughts perfectly in the comments to an article here last week.
Sure, if I come along to you proposing a commercial transaction and you don't like the colour of my money you can tell me to sod off for no other reason. It's a fundamental principle of the free market - of freedom - and, as we know, one that's under threat from so-called “rights” that are nothing of the sort.Quite.
But if you lay claim to my money, taken from me under threat of force on the pretext that you're providing a vital public service, then the tables are turned, matey. You have a duty to do the job, because I (apparently) have a right to it, and tough luck if I'm a bit uppity and won't answer your irrelevant questions.
Something to bear in mind next time an NHS dentist - who you are paying via taxation - threatens a refusal to perform his part of the contract simply because you'd prefer to keep your lifestyle choices private.