HC Deb 28 July 1998 vol 317 cc159-60
6. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

If he will make a statement on how national health service dentists are paid for root canal work. [50981]

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

Root canal treatments are included as items of treatment in the statement of dental remuneration for which dentists can claim an NHS fee.

Mr. Viggers

Well, I am grateful for that reply, as far as it went. Does the Minister agree that the fees payable to dentists for root canal work, at £24 for an incisor operation and £58 for a molar operation, which takes about two hours, are completely inadequate? Does he agree that dentists can undertake those operations only at a loss to themselves, if they are reputable and competent, and that recent studies show that in many cases dentists are undertaking such operations speedily and unprofessionally, which is resulting in low standards with further operations sometimes being necessary thereafter? What is he going to do about it? Before he replies, may I point out that dentists and patients in my constituency do not want to know what happened last year and the year before, but what will happen next year and the year after?

Mr. Milburn

I am sure that they do not want to know what happened last year and the year before. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that an independent review body deals with fees for procedures performed by dentists. We submit evidence to that body, as other Governments have; dentists submit evidence too, and the body recommends the fees that it considers appropriate. Over the past few years, the doctors and dentists remuneration review body has made recommendations for increases in fees well above the rate of inflation.

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

It may come as a surprise—although it should not—to some Opposition Members to learn that the more important question in some parts of the country is whether one can receive root canal treatment on the NHS. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure better availability of NHS dental treatment in the poorest areas to provide such important procedures as root canal work?

Mr. Milburn

The Government have taken a significant step forward on that. My hon. Friend will be aware that we inherited great difficulties with access to NHS dental services in some parts of the country. We have introduced a new investing in dentistry scheme, which is already bringing home the bacon because it is recruiting dentists back to the national health service. As a consequence, 250,000 extra patients now have access to NHS dental services which they would not have had under the previous Government.