HC Deb 07 December 1993 vol 234 cc126-8
2. Mr. Wigley

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment she has made of the adequacy of the level of dental service provision within the NHS; and if she will make a statement.

Dr. Mawhinney

We are committed to an effective and accessible national health service dental service. There are now more general dental practitioners and more registered patients in England than ever before.

Mr. Wigley

None the less, is the Minister aware that in many areas the dental services provided by the NHS have collapsed as a direct result of the contract that the Government have mishandled so badly? In my constituency—I accept that it is not in England—not a single NHS dentist is taking on new cases in the Dwyfor district. People are having to travel up to 50 miles to find NHS treatment. Is not that a disgrace? When will the Government honour their pledge that the NHS is safe in their hands?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman's initial statement was wrong. No family health services authority in England is unable to find dental health on the NHS for those patients who want it. I am aware of the problems in the hon. Gentleman's constituency because I have seen the correspondence that he has exchanged with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Health.

I am pleased to see that the hon. Gentleman's local health authority has now received permission to appoint four salaried dentists. I am also pleased that two extra community dentists have been appointed. In addition to the other measures taken locally, those appointments will go some way to meeting the problems that the hon. Gentleman has identified.

Mr. Hicks

Despite what my hon. Friend has said, is he aware that in rural areas, not least south-east Cornwall, there is certainly a fragility in the framework and structure of provision of our dental services? There is unease, which must be corrected so that the service can regain public confidence.

Dr. Mawhinney

I am aware of my hon. Friend's point, not least because he has made it to me several times, as have other hon. Friends from Cornwall. They will know that salaried dentists arrangements have been made in Cornwall. They will also know of the establishment of the peripatetic dental service. I put what my hon. Friend has said in the wider context of an increased number of dentists taking national health service patients—an all-time high—and of an increase of 1.6 million net in the number of patients registered for NHS treatment since 1 July last year, taking the amount now to almost 29 million.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Is not the Minister being unbelievably complacent on this serious issue? Will he treat the issue with the seriousness that it deserves—[Laughter.]—a seriousness with which it is obviously not addressed by Conservative Members? Will he tell us why there has been such a lengthy delay in the publication of the Government's oral health strategy, which we were promised a considerable time ago?

What steps are being taken to deal with the health implications of the deregistration of more than half a million dental patients, including many children, in England? What steps is the Minister taking to deal with the concern expressed by both Conservative and Opposition Members about the fact that dental care is rapidly becoming a complete shambles, directly and entirely as a result of deliberate Government policy?

Dr. Mawhinney

What nonsense. A net increase of 1.6 million patients registered for NHS treatment, an all-time high number of dentists delivering NHS treatment and more courses of adult treatment do not add up to a national health service that is coming apart at the seams. The service is being supplemented by 87 salaried dentists and an expansion of the community dental service.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, we have consulted widely. We have consulted areas that have never before been asked for opinions, such as the local dental committees. We have also taken careful note of the Health Select Committee's report which came out in the summer. The consultation would have been made far easier if the dentists had had any concerted idea of the future that they would like. The Government will produce their report shortly.

Mr. David Nicholson

May I reinforce the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks)? The matter to which he referred does not affect only rural areas; it is causing considerable problems to my constituents in Taunton itself. Is there not effectively an industrial dispute in the dental service which is causing inconvenience to my constituents? Will my hon. Friend therefore bring forward the Government's conclusions on the Bloomfield report as soon as possible? Numbers of dentists as well as patients are waiting to know what will happen to the dental service.

Dr. Mawhinney

I assure my hon. Friend that we will bring forward the proposals as quickly as we can, precisely for the reasons that he has outlined. I know that my hon. Friend shares my desire that we should spend enough time on the proposals to make them as effective as possible when we bring them forward.

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