HC Deb 15 December 1998 vol 322 cc743-4
2. Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough)

When he will publish his strategy for NHS dentistry. [62443]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)

We will publish our new strategy before too long, when we have considered all the points raised by those who have contributed their views on the future of NHS dentistry.

Mrs. Brinton

I thank the Minister for that reply and for the additional funding promised by the Government to increase people's right and accessibility to NHS dentistry. I note that it is 20 times more than that provided by the previous Administration, but I would like to ask the Minister for his proposals and his strategy for sorting out the current bureaucratic muddle that seems to be delaying the allocation of funds to dental practices.

Mr. Milburn

As my hon. Friend rightly says, we have made available extra money to improve access to NHS dentistry and to try to clear up the mess left by our predecessors, who ran down NHS dentistry in too many parts of the country. The Government are committed to building it up rather than running it down, and to date we have approved some 250 bids under the investing in dentistry initiative. As a result, an extra 600,000 patients now have access to NHS dental care. An additional 90 proposals are in the pipeline, including some from my hon. Friend's area, and we are assessing them carefully.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

On the issue of free dental checks for all, the Deputy Prime Minister said on the BBC: We've got to find the money to finance it". Does the Minister still stand by that commitment?

Mr. Milburn

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, his party was in power for 18 years. If he is so committed to free dental checks, perhaps he should have done something about it.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if a dentist mistreats patients in order fraudulently to create work for himself, those patients should be properly compensated? Does he agree that it is not acceptable for any insurance company to reject any such claim without giving proper reason? Does he plan to do something about that in future?

Mr. Milburn

I am not aware of the issue that my hon. Friend raises, although I am happy to look at any individual case. The overwhelming majority of NHS dentists—and NHS staff—are trustworthy, honest and reliable. However, we intend to take tough measures against the minority who are not. As my hon. Friend is aware, we have recently appointed a new director of counter-fraud work who will spearhead the assault on fraud wherever it occurs—in dentistry, medicine or anywhere else within the NHS.