HC Deb 31 October 1995 vol 265 cc87-8
5. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many NHS dental practices are no longer accepting new NHS patients. [38215]

Mr. Malone

As dentists are independent practitioners, information in this form is not available centrally. However, at June 1995, there were 15,616 dentists in England providing general dental services. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that that is 190 more than three years ago.

Mr. Pike

Whatever the Minister says, does he not recognise that it is increasingly impossible for people to get national health service dental treatment? Does he not accept that the Government are presiding over the destruction of the NHS dental service and that they need to do something about it now?

Mr. Malone

What the hon. Gentleman says is a lot of nonsense. In his own constituency, for example, there are nine dentists in four practices, who all accept NHS patients. In the adjacent village of Padiham, a further five dentists are accepting new patients. National health service dentistry is alive and well and growing in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. That is happening in the majority of places throughout the country, although in a number of isolated and difficult areas, we are seeking to encourage family health services authorities to employ salaried dentists to deal with local problems.

Mr. Nicholls

Would my hon. Friend like to remind the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) that there is an overriding obligation on the national health service to provide dental services, and that if those services are not provided by local dentists because they want to operate a cartel, salaried dentists are employed by the national health service to plug the gap? I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for ensuring that those services are provided in Teignmouth in my constituency, and I hope that I shall not have to write to him about Newton Abbott in due course.

Mr. Malone

I thank my hon. Friend. In his constituency, there is a good example of how a shortage that manifests itself locally can be tackled through the salaried dental service by the family health services authority, with determined results. I was delighted to find that there is now a mobile service at Teignmouth hospital, which has been secured for the future.

Mr. McLeish

Will the Minister apologise to the House for the fact that nearly 1 million people have been taken off NHS dentist lists in the past three years? That is an attrition rate of 6,000 a week. Does he accept that that is a scandal and tragedy for those who want access to NHS dental care? Of course, he could give an undertaking to the House today that he will once and for all put patient access and preventive health care above the dogmatic pursuit of privatisation.

Mr. Malone

As we are having a lot of welcoming of hon. Members to their portfolios, I extend a warm welcome to the hon. Gentleman to his portfolio and to the Dispatch Box. If he is going to ask me in future about deregistration of people in NHS dentistry, it would be helpful to the House if he understood, and pointed out, that registrations take place at the same time. The figure for those registered between 1992, when the deregistration campaign started, and now stands at some 27.3 million. In fact, when it comes to child registrations, the figure has gone up.

On the second point, of course oral health is an important strategy. It is widely recognised throughout the country and by dental practitioners in particular that our oral health strategy has been a success, and dentists are happy to work with the Government in taking it forward.