HC Deb 22 February 1972 vol 831 cc1078-81
3. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is aware that the new increased dental charges are having an adverse effect on dental health; and what steps he intends to take to eliminate these effects.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

As my hon. Friend indicated in his reply to the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) on 25th January, evidence so far available does not suggest that the present system of dental charges has had this effect.—[Vol. 829, c. 370.]

Mr. Hamilton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that dentists in Scotland have expressed the view that fewer and fewer people are going to the dentists and that when they make a visit they ask for extractions rather than fillings because extractions are cheaper? Will not this situation be worsened following the recent announcement about increased charges to pay dentists higher salaries? Will the right hon. Gentleman take another look at this matter and consult the dental profession to obtain from it firm evidence to confirm the information contained in my Question?

Sir K. Joseph

I shall be in continual touch with the dental profession, but it is too soon for statistics to give us the answer we need. In the past, increases in charges have always led to a pre-increase surge and a post-increase dip, after which the basic rising trend has reasserted itself. I still believe that this is what will happen.

Mr. Molloy

Is the Secretary of State aware that the current situation is causing unnecessary anguish and pain for both dentists and patients, and that dentists are feeling frustrated with the present arrangements? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take my hon. Friend's advice to look at the situation before it gets too bad?

Sir K. Joseph

I am continually looking at the situation. The fact is that about 60 per cent. of dental treatment courses are free and a large number of the remaining 40 per cent. are being charged at a lower figure than that which was charged before the change. I do not agree that there is any evidence to justify disquiet.

11. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has for the development of National Health Service dental services.

Sir K. Joseph

I have just invited the British Dental Association to meet me in order to discuss arrangements for launching a joint examination of ways of securing the long-term development and improvement of the dental services available under the National Health Service.

Mrs. Short

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Is he aware that there is an acute shortage of dentists in many parts of the country; that in the last ten years there has been an increase of only 6 per cent. in the number of dentists who have, nevertheless, done a considerably greater amount—about 67 per cent.—of dental work; that, because of the shortage, in many towns National Health Service dentistry is virtually unobtainable; that patients requiring dental treatment have to attend dentists as private patients; and that the dental service in these areas is in danger of breaking down completely? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore undertake to discuss this matter with the B.D.A. and also to look at the number of students entering dental schools for training as dentists? This matter is very urgent.

Sir K. Joseph

The short answer is, yes, I will. However, I should not like to leave the impression that these problems will be easily or quickly solved. They are part of the agenda which I expect to discuss with the B.D.A.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

When my right hon. Friend has these discussions with the B.D.A., will he see what can be done to solve the problem which arises from the fact that eventually there is no dentist of last resort, as there is with doctors, and see that there is a dentist to whom a person can be directed finally if he cannot find a National Health Service dentist?

Sir K. Joseph

There are arrangements for names to be made available at hospitals and other places, but I will re-examine the situation.

Mrs. Castle

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the costs of the dentists for the more specialised services are now being so inadequately covered under the National Health Service arrangements that many dentists are being induced to persuade their patients to have private treatment for anything but the most basic arrangements or priority services? Will he make it an aim of his policy to prevent the continuing development of a two-tier service with the more routine work done under the National Heath Service and the more elaborate work done by private practice?

Sir K. Joseph

The rates are fixed by the Dental Rates Study Group, but I am sure that the dentists will raise the points to which the right hon. Lady referred in the discussions to which I look forward.

Miss Quennell

When my right hon. Friend holds these discussions, will he bear in mind the serious need for some form of emergency dental service in large areas of the country where sometimes the hospitals are unable to provide the necessary services for the three critical dental emergencies which occur?

Sir K. Joseph

I will certainly make sure that this subject is on the agenda.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

When the Minister has these discussions, will he bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) said about the National Health Service in dentistry being in serious danger of breaking down in many parts of the country? Will he also bear in mind that this is being aided and abetted by consultants who specialise in telling dentists how to sell dentistry?

Sir K. Joseph

There is a minority which is willing to pay for dental services. My objective is to improve the services which are available under the National Health Service. The House should recognise that dental courses under the National Health Service have been rising steadily and, I believe, are still rising, though I admit that in certain areas and for certain forms of treatment there is a problem.