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Dentists urged to come clean on medical bills

patients are being left in the dark when it comes to the cost of basic medical and dental work.

Most patients only discover how much they are going to be charged by a dentist or doctor after their treatment.

Health workers are consistently refusing to openly display their prices and as a result customers are being charged wildly different amounts.

A new study by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) has found that nearly 70pc of dentists fail to show a price list either outside their premises or even in the waiting room.

The NCA found that the price of a standard GP visit can vary wildly from as little as €35 up to €70. The nationwide average is €51, but the study suggests that practitioners in the west are generally the cheapest.

The highest average price was in the Ballsbridge/Sandymount area of Dublin 4, where the average cost was €59.

According to the NCA's website, its review of 251 GPs and dentists in 11 urban locations proves that the Government needs to force regulatory and representative bodies for both professions to introduce a code of practice for charging.

Prices for a routine dental exam ranged from free at a small number of clinics up to €86 in parts of south Dublin. The charge in perceived affluent areas of the capital was almost double the nationwide average of €44.

Similarly, the average cost of a scale and polish was €61 but fees could range from €25 to €90.

However, in more than two out of three cases consumers were not given advance warnings of the charges unless they specifically requested a price list. Of the 83 dentists who did not display their prices, over half offered no reason for not doing so.

The finding comes despite a paragraph in the Dental Council of Ireland's Code of Conduct which states: "Greater transparency in fees is advocated and a list of private fees should be prominently displayed."

Half of GPs inspected by the NCA also failed to display their prices. Just eight of 123 GPs surveyed said they charged less for children, though some said they exercised discretion or had family rates.

The survey found that not only was there a huge variation in prices across the country, but also that consumers could make substantial savings by shopping around within their own locality.

The NCA said: "This suggests there is scope for price reductions and the agency believes that increased price display will lead to more competition and a reduction in fees as a result."