HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc651-2
2. Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

What plans he has to improve the provision of NHS dentistry in Herefordshire. [135969]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton)

In the past three years, more than £3 million of revenue and £288,000 of capital has been invested in the Hereford dental access centres. Herefordshire will benefit from the provisions of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, which will give new duties to primary care trusts to secure primary dental services, which will be financed by the £1.2 billion currently held centrally. It will also benefit from the £44 million that I announced last month to assist those primary care trusts in which it is hardest to find an NHS dentist.

Mr. Keetch

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I pay tribute to the primary care trust access centre and to the local dentists. Does she realise, however, that a recent survey of 20,000 residents in south Herefordshire showed that, of those who were concerned about health care provision, 60 per cent. were particularly concerned about dentistry, compared with only 11 per cent. who were concerned about GP waiting times—next highest issue? A constituent of mine who came to see me at the weekend has still not found a dentist after two years and makes a 400-mile round trip to Essex to see his old dentist. I appreciate what the Government are doing, but will the Minister agree to talk again to the PCT, and to meet some of my constituents to discuss their very real concerns?

Ms Winterton

GP waiting times are going down because we are getting quicker access to the GPs. With regard to dentistry, I certainly understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I will ask the NHS support team to work with the NHS locally in Herefordshire to see what assistance can be provided. After those meetings have taken place, I would be more than happy to discuss with the hon. Gentleman and his constituents the conclusions that have been reached.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)

The trouble is that we do not have enough beds in our hospitals in Herefordshire. We have had complacent answers time and again from the Government about how much money they have spent, yet when we get down on the ground, there is nothing happening. What is the Minister actually going to do for my constituents—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about dentistry. I call Mr. Burstow.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

Does the Minister accept that the position regarding dentistry in Herefordshire is mirrored nationally? In Herefordshire, almost half the population are not registered with a dentist; across the country as a whole, more than half the population are not registered. Indeed, 25 million people are having to find their way to treatment centres that are miles away from their homes. Is this not an indictment of the Government's record on investing in the health service? Have they not failed to put this matter right, and have we as a country not failed, as a consequence, to ensure that we have a comprehensive dental health care service?

Ms Winterton

We inherited a legacy of underinvestment from the Conservatives. Dentists were walking away from the NHS because of the way in which the Conservatives implemented the contract. However, we recognise that there are still problems. In the longer term, we are going to enable PCTs to work with dentists locally and to do the contracting there, so that they can deal with local problems. At the moment, money is returned to the centre if dentists no longer wish to undertake NHS work; that will now remain locally. However, in the mean time, to assist the NHS support team, we have allocated £43 million to help the areas with the biggest shortages. I believe that that will lead to better provision. I accept that we are not there at the moment, but we are working towards that.