HC Deb 16 April 1996 vol 275 cc494-5
2. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many salaried dentists are now employed in the south and west health region; and if he will make a statement. [23464]

The Minister for Health (Mr. Gerald Malone)

The number of salaried dentists currently employed in the south and west region is 18.

Mr. Coombs

Notwithstanding the figure that my hon. Friend has given the House, and the fact that no fewer than eight dental practices in my constituency provide national health service free dentistry to those who need it and are entitled to it, my hon. Friend will be aware that there is a perception in Swindon and elsewhere that NHS dentistry, free at the point of delivery, is not as widely available as we should like it to be. What can my hon. Friend do to put to one side the constant misinformation that is being peddled by the Opposition—exacerbated by the press—and to give assurances to my constituents and others?

Mr. Malone

I am glad that my hon. Friend has given me the opportunity to destroy the perception which, as he rightly says, exists in the public domain because the perception is entirely false. In his constituency there are 61 dental contracts—13 accept adult chargepayers, 18 accept non-chargepaying adults, 21 accept children and five accept emergencies. That local scene exists in the national context of an increased—a record—number of dentists providing NHS services. I am delighted to have this opportunity to destroy the perception to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. McLeish

Does the Minister accept that there is a crisis facing NHS dentistry in the south and west region? Will he acknowledge the recent British Dental Association survey which showed that one patient in two has difficulty in finding an NHS dentist? Will he confirm that the Government are driving dentistry out of the NHS—even to the point that 40 per cent. of Conservative Members of Parliament believe that in 10 years' time there will be no NHS dentistry? Is it not true that, today, the basis of Tory health care rests not on what someone needs, but on where someone lives and what he can afford?

Mr. Malone

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to look at the facts surrounding the arguments rather than simply make assertions. In the south and west region, since 30 June 1992 the number of dentists providing NHS services has increased from 2,168 to 2,235. It does not matter how much the hon. Gentleman shakes his head—that is a fact. If he says that the service is in decline and the Government are withdrawing from NHS dentistry, he should look at a number of other figures. Expenditure has increased by 57 per cent. in real terms since 1979. If the hon. Gentleman does not like that figure he can turn his attention to courses of adult treatments—sadly, he will be disappointed to find that since 1979 they have risen from 17 million to 24.9 million. He might not be content with that and might turn his attention to adult examinations—he will be disappointed again as they have risen from 15.7 million to 19.3 million. If there is a local difficulty, it will be met by either the community dental service or a salaried dentist, of which there are now 126 employed in England.

Mr. Ian Bruce

My hon. Friend will know that local health authorities in Dorset are keen to be able to negotiate with people who have opted out of the NHS into private dentistry so that there is a reflection, on a regional basis, of the additional costs of providing NHS dentistry. Has my hon. Friend considered the application that has been made for the ability to negotiate locally? Has he had the support of the Labour party, which seems so keen to ensure that the problem is solved once and for all?

Mr. Malone

I shall not trouble my hon. Friend by trying to get the support of the Labour party, which appears to be purblind to what is going on in NHS dentistry. On my hon. Friend's specific point, I am delighted to be able to tell him that we are looking at more flexible ways of using the funding that is available for salaried dentists to see whether we can meet individual shortages where they arise. To put the matter in context, BDA figures show that only 500 dentists provide exclusively private dentistry in this country compared with the 15,000 plus dentists who provide NHS dentistry as well.