HC Deb 07 July 2004 vol 423 cc826-8
5. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con)

What recent discussions he has had with National Assembly for Wales Ministers on funding for dentistry in Wales. [181916]

7. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

What discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales on ways of increasing the number of students studying dentistry; and if he will make a statement. [181919]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

I discussed dentistry in Wales with the Assembly Health Minister on 16 June, at one of our regular bilateral meetings.

Mr. Robathan

Does the Minister remember that the Prime Minister said, in September 1999, that in two years everyone in the UK would be able to have access to an NHS dentist? However, only just over 50 per cent. of the Welsh population are registered with an NHS dentist. How does the Minister square those two facts? When will the people of Wales be able to get an NHS dentist?

Mr. Touhig

The Welsh dental initiative, a funding scheme to increase access to NHS dentistry, has provided more than 23,000 extra places in the NHS in Wales in the past 12 months. We need no lessons from the Conservatives about the NHS in Wales. When they were in power, they closed 70 hospitals, slashed nursing and midwifery training and cut a third of general acute beds. Eighteen years of under-investment—that is what we are putting right.

Mr. Llwyd

To be fair, the reality is that the crisis in NHS dentistry in Wales has been going on for about 10 or 12 years. However, this Government have been in power for nearly seven years. Will the Minister consider two very important initiatives? First, it is very important to incentivise students to study dentistry. Secondly. rural practices in particular should be assisted to take on trainees so that they can stay on in due course. Those two important measures could easily be put in place. I urge the Minister to discuss them with the First Minister.

Mr. Touhig

I am aware of those initiatives, which the hon. Gentleman has raised a number of times in the past. Indeed, the all-Wales work force development steering group has given support in principle to expanding the numbers of undergraduate dental students in Wales. A business case for that expansion has been passed to the Assembly and is under consideration. I am also aware that the hon. Gentleman met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has taken up the matter with the First Minister. I hope that we will be able to take the agenda forward.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab)

Will my hon Friend the Minister acknowledge that the Assembly's Health Minister has put £5.3 million into dentistry in Wales? Indeed, a new practice was opened in Brecon road in Abergavenny last November by Dr. Mohamed Gazi. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating him, and wishing him every success in providing, under the NHS, the sort of service that local people deserve?

Mr. Touhig

Indeed, eight new dental practice offering NHS treatment have been opened in Wales. In north Wales, they are at Barmouth, Wrexham and Llanrwst; in mid-Wales, they are at Machynlleth and Crickhowell; and in west Wales, they are at Carmarther and Abergavenny—the area to which my hon. Friend referred—and Merthyr Tydfil.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli) (Lab)

Is my hon. Friend aware that AXA Insurance and Denplan are the main private providers of dentistry in Britain, with about 30 per cent. of the dentistry market? In Llanelli, the marker share is close to 100 per cent. If the trend continues and is not arrested, does he agree that there will be very little left of NHS dentistry, in Wales or Britain as a whole?

Mr. Touhig

I take my right hon. Friend's point very seriously, and I am aware that we have discussed it in the past. However, the Welsh dental initiative provides grants of up to £50,000 to practices in designated areas and is aimed at increasing NHS dentistry provision in Wales. Grants of up to £20,000 are available to establis1 new vocational training practices. Working in partnership with colleagues in the Assembly, we an seeking to push the agenda forward but, as I said in reply to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr Llwyd), we have a long road to travel to make up for the under-investment of 18 years of Tory Government.

Forward to