NHS dentists in West Berkshire took millions of pounds in charges for treatment last year, new figures reveal.

The British Dental Association is warning that expensive treatment charges, which have increased by 20 per cent over the last five years, and a punitive fining policy have led to a collapse in attendance among vulnerable groups.

Dentists in the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group area brought in £6.8 million from 170,390 courses of treatment in 2018-19, NHS Digital figures show.

The paid procedures made up 83 per cent of the 206,518 treatments for adults over the year, with the remaining 36,128 carried for free.

While there is no historical data available for Berkshire West CCG, the number of free treatments, which are offered to low-income groups, elderly people, pregnant women and full-time students, has fallen by a quarter in England over the last five years.

Without an exemption, adults have to pay a charge to visit the dentist, which varies depending on the type of treatment received.

Band 1 procedures, such as check-ups and examinations, and urgent operations to address severe pain or risk of deterioration both cost £21.60 per treatment.

Band 2 treatments, such as fillings, extractions and root canals, cost £59.10, while Band 3 procedures, such as crowns, dentures and dental bridges, cost £256.50.

Misclaiming free care can lead to automatic fines of up to £100.

The BDA says nearly 400,000 patients a year, including those with learning disabilities, have received fines, some simply for ticking the wrong box on a form.

Charlotte Waite, from the BDA, said: "Vulnerable patients will keep turning away from check-ups as long as ministers refuse to let go of their failed fines policy.

"People will keep falling foul of a confusing system which won't give an inch if you make an honest mistake.

"Sadly, the adults and children now failing to attend are precisely those who could benefit most.

"Ministers should be rolling out the red carpet for these patients, not providing reasons to bottle up oral health problems."

The policy in England is in stark contrast with those in other UK nations – in Scotland and Northern Ireland, patients do not receive fines for mistakenly claiming support for NHS care.

The Department for Health and Social Care maintained that it is right to recoup money lost from people incorrectly claiming exemption from prescription and dental charges.

A spokesperson said: "We want every single person to have access to high quality dental care, and we have a number of clear, unchanged exemptions in place to protect those who cannot pay – including those on low incomes.

"If anyone receives a penalty charge notice incorrectly, there are procedures in place to challenge the decision and have the penalty withdrawn."