HC Deb 14 September 2004 vol 424 cc1115-6
6. Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on progress in the north-west in providing NHS dental services. [188506]

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

An extra £7.5 million was allocated in July to strategic health authorities in the north-west to improve immediate access to NHS dentistry. In the longer term, we are radically reforming the way in which dentistry is delivered, supported by £368 million of additional investment. That includes recruiting the equivalent of 1,000 extra dentists by October 2005, and training an extra 170 dentists each year.

Mr. Pike

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that answer and for her personal interest in the provision of NHS dentistry in Burnley and east Lancashire. I am pleased to hear what the Government are doing to address the problem, but I am sure that she will know that more constituents write to me every week about this matter than about any other. One of the biggest problems is that people who are entitled to free NHS dental services often cannot afford to go to the places where they can receive them. What can we do to deal with that matter as a priority?

Ms Winterton

My hon. Friend is right to say that there are problems with immediate access and that one of them is the distance that people have to travel to obtain NHS dentistry. That is why we have asked each primary care trust to draw up a dental action plan, saying how they will use some of the extra money that we have made available now to overcome those problems. I have looked at the plan in my hon. Friend's area and can assure him that it will improve access for about 37,500 people. Not all of those will be new patients because some will be NHS patients who will not have to travel as far as they do at the moment.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab)

Is my hon. Friend aware of any innovations, either in the pipeline or being tried out, that could help the situation in the north-west and in my constituency, where there is a severe shortage of NHS dentistry provision? For example, would it be possible to use mobile dental surgeries?

Ms Winterton

My hon. Friend is right, and a number of dental action plans will involve mobile surgeries. At the same time, we are looking at international recruitment and at encouraging dentists who may not be practising at the moment to return to work. We have had 186 inquiries in response to our advertisements about that. However, we also want PCTs to look locally at how they can attract dentists into their areas, perhaps by moving people to the new contract more quickly or by considering some of the ideas in respect of international recruitment or mobile surgeries. Every PCT is drawing up a plan to say how it will spend the extra money with which we have provided it.