HC Deb 21 February 1978 vol 944 cc594-5W
Mr. Craigen

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the number of males and females estimated to reach the age of 60 years in each of the five years 1978 to 1983 in Scotland, and in the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Deakins

The number of males and females—given in thousands—aged 60 years for each year in the period 1978–83 are as follows:

Mr. Ennals

National Health Service dental fees, including any charge payable by the patient, are designed to reimburse on average all the expenses involved in providing any item of dental treatment including dentures. However, as the 1977 review of dental expenses is now many months overdue, the existing scale may no longer satisfactorily reflect average costs.

Mrs. Bain

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has recently received indicating that members of dental practices are finding it difficult to meet rising costs; and what action he intends to take to ensure that an adequate and effective dental service is maintained.

Mr. Ennals

Since I wrote on 19th December to all general dental practitioners, I have received about 380 replies, most of which mention rising costs. I sympathise with these practitioners, and understand their concern. The reason for the difficulty is that the British Dental Association refused last year to take part in the Dental Rates Study Group's annual review of dental fees and I have been unwilling unilaterally to impose a new scale without the Group's expert advice. I have urged the Association to return to the Group to assess the right level of expenses but they are unwilling to do so unless I write off outstanding overpayments of expenses to dentists which have occurred since 1974. I have offered to look at ways of recovering these overpayments which would not distort the scale of fees and I remain open to any reasonable approach which the Association may care to make in this matter.

Since the system of retrospective adjustment of over- or under-payments for expenses—which was introduced in 1974 at the request of the British Dental Association—affects the amount of net remuneration recommended by the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration, both my Department and the Association have explained the problem in their evidence to the independent Review Body, in the hope that the latter will be prepared to express a view on the general principles involved. The Review Body is expected to report to the Prime Minister in April.

I hope that individual practitioners will respond to the appeal in my letter of 19th December not to make patients suffer because of this dispute. Where patients experience difficulty in finding a dentist to treat them under the National Health Service, my advice is that they contact the administrator of their local family practitioner committee. While he has no power to compel a dentist to accept a particular patient, he will do his best to help.