HC Deb 18 April 1995 vol 258 cc3-5
3. Mr. Mudie

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many NHS dental patients have been deregistered by NHS dentists since July 1992. [17573]

The Minister for Health (Mr. Gerald Malone)

A total of 878,156 patients, comprising 867,653 adults and 3,503 children have been deregistered since July 1992. However, adult registrations are up by over 128,000 over a broadly similar period.

Mr. Mudie

The Minister will be aware that the deregistrations arise from a dispute that has been allowed to fester for three years. In view of the fact that the Minister has just told us that nearly 900,000 patients have been deregistered and that 60 per cent. of dentists are taking no new adult NHS patients, is it not about time that the Minister acted—acted other than by press release—or is his real objective the privatisation of dental care?

Mr. Malone

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that in his constituency 58 per cent. of adults are registered for NHS care, which is higher than the national average, as are 61 per cent. of children, which is 4 per cent. above the national average. In Leeds as a whole, there is only one postal district which is not served by NHS dentistry, so there is a comprehensive service in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The Government are thoroughly committed to ensuring that that continues throughout the rest of the country.

Mrs. Gillan

Does my hon. Friend agree that an important part of dental care is the provision of orthodontics? Is he aware that in my constituency of Chesham and Amersham some parents are experiencing difficulties in finding orthodontists for their children? Can my hon. Friend reassure my constituents by saying that he will place the availability of orthodontists at the top of his list of priorities?

Mr. Malone

I cannot give my hon. Friend that unequivocal assurance, but I can tell her that a number of NHS dentists, not orthodontic specialists, can provide certain levels of orthodontic care. If my hon. Friend cares to write to me about the point that she has made, I will look into it and see what improvements can be made.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the Minister be kind enough to answer my question head on: how many of the 877,000 deregistered patients to which he referred does he expect to be able to find an NHS dentist in their area within 12 months from today? How many?

Mr. Malone

The hon. and learned Gentleman fails to recognise that, although there are de-registrations on the one hand, there are re-registrations on the other. One of the reasons why we have addressed the question of continuing care payments is that 4.5 million people rolled off dental registers over 12 months and it is important that they are brought back on so that proper care can be provided. The hon. and learned Gentleman's question is absurd, particularly in the terms in which it was asked. NHS dental care is available for everybody in this country where it is clinically essential. If it cannot be provided by an NHS dentist, it will be provided by the community dental service by or a salaried dentist.

Lady Olga Maitland

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are plenty of dentists providing NHS dental treatment in this country and that, in the past two years, the numbers have increased by 533 to a total of nearly 16,000? Is my hon. Friend aware that my son received urgent dental treatment last week and that it was excellent?

Mr. Malone

I was not aware of that last point but I am extremely glad to hear it. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do not hear what the Opposition's policy is when they criticise the availability of NHS dentistry, but we have, in fact, heard from their official spokesman in the past few weeks that they will consult Health 2000 and be putting the problem to them to seek a solution. They certainly do not intend to find that solution themselves.

Mrs. Beckett

Surely the Minister must be aware, because the public certainly are, that it is as a consequence of the very low morale in the profession that dentists are leaving the health service in droves and that the General Dental Practitioners Association recently said that the Government's action will not stem the tide of dentists leaving the NHS". As there is no doubt that that is the effect of Government policy, will the Minister tell us whether it is a further example of the Government's gross incompetence or of their deliberate malice and neglect which are undermining the health service?

Mr. Malone

It is the sort of malice and neglect that has resulted in a real terms increase of 53 per cent. in spending on general dental services since 1979 and the sort of malice and neglect that has resulted in more dental practitioners—533 more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) said, providing NHS dentistry. It is absurd for the right hon.

Lady to state that NHS dentistry is on the point of collapse or that there is no commitment. Perhaps she should read what her policy is—she is committed merely to retain as much of the service as possible", which does not sound to me like a ringing endorsement of NHS dentistry.