HC Deb 18 March 1997 vol 292 cc708-9
2. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the levels of NHS dental charges. [19162]

Mr. Malone

All Governments since 1951 have accepted that patients who can afford to should make some contribution towards the cost of their dental care. National health service dental treatment is free to those aged under 18 and extensive exemption and remission arrangements protect vulnerable groups.

Mr. Banks

Why does not the Minister tell us that real dental charges have gone up by 245 per cent. since 1979? Those are not just arid statistics, but are based on my experience. I have just paid £350 for a crown. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] That may be funny for Conservative Members. If any of them want some free dental service outside the Chamber afterwards I should be more than happy to give it to them. I am now facing £600 of periodontal work that has to be done privately because it cannot be provided on the national health service. I can afford it because I have a job and I shall have a job after 1 May, which is more than can be said for some Conservative Members, but what about people on low earnings who cannot afford that? We have a toothless Government who are obviously determined to render the nation toothless as well.

Mr. Malone

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what has happened in his constituency between 1991–92 and 1995–96. Perhaps he is not interested in that, but is interested only in what is happening to him. The proportion of adult courses of treatment provided free in his health authority has risen from 48.5 per cent. in 1991–92 to 59.5 per cent. We shall take no lessons from Labour on charging until the shadow Chancellor releases the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) from the shackles that have bound him on health service expenditure, meaning that Labour cannot match the Prime Minister's pledge for real increases in funding year on year on year on year on year during the next Parliament.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend remind the House and the former guardian of the Greater London council silver who introduced dental charges, and how many general hospitals would have to be closed if dental charges were abolished?

Mr. Malone

Dental charges have been supported by Governments since the early 1950s. I cannot tell my hon. Friend how many hospitals would have to be closed, but £381 million would have to be recovered. Labour has recently reneged on what it had said about free eyesight tests. The public know what Labour would do about dental charges if it were ever elected to office.

Mr. Ainger

Will the Minister be straight with the House and accept that not just in Wales, but throughout the country, there are constituencies with hardly any NHS dental service? The issue has been raised for the past four years. Is it not about time that he came forward with a plan to ensure that British people, on benefit or not, have access to an NHS dentist?

Mr. Malone

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been living. He has certainly not been following the affairs of this House recently. In the context of a growing dental service with more dentists and more treatments than ever, we have just given a Third Reading to a primary health care Bill that will address the problems of locating treatment in certain parts of the country. Access schemes have also been set in place, for which I hope health authorities in his constituency have been bidding. We have taken initiatives that have been endorsed by the House. I am glad to be able to point them out to the hon. Gentleman at this late stage.