HC Deb 06 July 2004 vol 423 cc673-5
5. Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole)

If he will make a statement on progress in implementing the new contract for NHS dentists. [182185]

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

Since the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 received Royal Assent in November, my officials have had several meetings with the British Dental Association about the new contract. Further meetings are scheduled in the next two months. We will shortly be making a further statement on the implementation of the new contract.

Mrs. Brooke

What guarantee does the Minister think she may be able to give that the new proposals will improve access to NHS dentists? That is an enormous concern for my constituents. Given the latest research from the British Dental Association, which found that nearly 60 per cent. of high street dentists are likely either to reduce their commitment or quit the NHS, I seek reassurances from her today.

Ms Winterton

Our evidence that the new contract will work is based on five years of work in pilot sites around the country. We already have about 1,500 dentists coming over to the new system of personal dental services. The hon. Lady will be aware that we worked up the proposals for the new contract with the British Dental Association because it told us that it did not like the current way of working—the treadmill effect. We are changing the system so that all the money that is currently held centrally will go to local level and primary care trusts can plan properly, in conjunction with local dentists, the NHS dentistry that is required in their area.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab)

I thank my hon. Friend for agreeing to visit Southampton on Thursday to discuss dentistry, and may I encourage her to do two things when she does? First, will she do everything that she can to reassure NHS dentists about the nature of the new contract, because the misconceptions about it are one reason why some are considering reducing their commitment? Secondly, I urge her to press the primary care trust to monitor dentists' intentions much more closely, so that it can intervene quickly if there are any signs of dentists planning to leave the NHS for erroneous reasons and fears in particular.

Ms Winterton

My right hon. Friend is right: there are some misconceptions about the new contract. On PCTs ensuring that they are aware of what is happening locally, we have dental leads in every PCT and in the strategic health authorities. Earlier this year, we announced £59 million to improve access, and dental personnel working at PCT and strategic health authority level have access to that money. They can work with local dentists, so that if dentists indicate that they want to leave the NHS, money can be accessed and ways of improving services considered so that they remain NHS dentists.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con)

These are not just misconceptions. The dental profession seems to be united in its opposition to the new dental contract. Why does the Minister think that that is so? Could it be that, with nine months to go until the start of the contract, we have yet to be given the details of it? Could it also be because nine out of 10 dentists believe that PCTs are not up to the job of managing that contract, as the National Audit Office also seems to think?

Ms Winterton

One problem is that dentists were completely united against the contract introduced by the previous Administration and we have had to pick up the pieces resulting from that. On dentists' attitude to the new approach, 1,500 dentists are moving over to the new system and they say that they like the new way of working. The chairman of the British Dental Association said that there are many happy practitioners working under the new system—a fact that we should be celebrating. We have put together the dental work force review and worked with the BDA on the new contract—the new way of working—which, as we have demonstrated, is working after five years of piloting. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would support the action that we are taking, particularly given that we are putting right the problems created by his Administration.