§ 11. Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab)
What plans he has to increase patient capacity within the NHS. 
§ The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid)
The NHS is expanding capacity as never before, with 19,400 more doctors and 67,000 more nurses since 1997, and the largest hospital building programme in its history. That will allow us to offer faster, more responsive services and more patient choice, all free with no charges for anyone for operations or treatment.
§ Mrs. Dean
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and—to use the word of the morning—celebrate the fact that there has been a 35 per cent. increase in overall staffing at Queen's hospital in Burton, and a 68 per cent. increase in the number of doctors there. A new GP surgery at Winshill in my constituency is serving a local population that has not had one for between 20 and 30 years. May I also tell my right hon. Friend—
§ Dr. Reid
We always stand ready to give whatever assistance and guidance we can, although as we drive forward reforms in the national health service and increase capacity we are trying simultaneously to pass down to local level as much of the power for decision making as possible. My hon. Friend has given a balanced picture of where we are. We have made huge and significant progress on capacity over the past seven years, although we still have a long way to go, as she pointed out. However, the choice before people is plain: what we offer, in increased capacity, extended choice, more personal care, all delivered free at the point of need; or the alternative, which is to reduce NHS capacity, to scrap all targets so that there will be unlimited waiting lists, to introduce charges and give preferential treatment to the better-off, and to return to the jungle of the free market where health policy benefits only the financially fittest in this country.
§ Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con)
May I ask the Secretary of State about capacity as regards dental patients in the NHS? In large parts of my constituency, it is now practically impossible to register with an NHS dentist. People must go to a practice well outside the constituency to do so. In Hockley, in my constituency, there is a particular problem. The residents association has come up with some innovative proposals to address it, but those in the local health economy appear to be pooh-poohing them at present. Will the Secretary of State allow me to write to him specifically about that very difficult situation to find out whether he can do something to address the black hole in NHS dentistry in my constituency?
§ Dr. Reid
Of course I look forward to receiving any representation on that from any Member on either side of the House. I have not hidden—nor has the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton)—from the huge challenges that we face with dentistry. Again, let us try to get a balanced picture. There are more dentists in this country than ever before. There has been a 15 per cent. increase in the number of dentists in this country. There are more dentists in training than ever before, but there are problems that relate to the 684 contract. I make no party political point, but that is not merely a problem under this Government. There is a problem with getting in extra dentists in the short term, as well as with training them for the long term. I will address all those points in the coming week, because this issue should not separate us on party political grounds, but I certainly look forward to receiving any ideas and representations. One idea that I will not accept is to reduce the capacity that we are putting into the NHS— an idea that could only make the situation worse.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab)
We need more home-grown doctors because, very often, doctors will stay in the area where they were trained. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether there is any plan to establish a new medical school in the north-west, based on the university of Central Lancashire?
§ Dr. Reid
It is not always that I can start with the words, "I agree entirely with my hon. Friend," but I can today. That is why we have got 60 per cent. more home-grown doctors, and more medical students and a higher number of applications to medical colleges than ever before. We have opened four more medical colleges as well.
All that is a massive advance, but it is short of where we would want to be in an ideal world. However, I hope that people will recognise that, if we want to build on the advances of the past few years, we need increased capacity and more personal control for patients, and all that must be delivered free at the point of need. We should be celebrating this morning the fact that, as shown in a BBC poll, 70 to 80 per cent. of the people of this country agree with us on that and are entirely opposed to any plan to charge people for health care.