§ Mr. Hutton
3,130 general dental service (GDS) dentists were practising dentistry in 1,478 practices in the London national health service region at 30 June 2002. This compares to 2,884 GDS dentists practising in 1,458 practices at 30 June 1997. 470 and 230 dentists were working in the hospital dental service (HDS) and community dental service (CDS) in the London NHS region at 30 September 2002, this compares with 450 and 240 dentists respectively at 30 September 1997. Also 43 dentists were working in the personal dental service (PDS) in the London NHS region at 30 September 2002 who were not also working in the GDS. The PDS began in October 1998. Information on the number of practices for those dental services is not available. Most of the dental services are provided on community or hospital trust premises.235W
The number of GDS dentists includes principals on a strategic health authority list, their assistants and vocational dental practitioners in the GDS in England. The figures for the number of GDS dentists are on a headcount basis rather than a whole time equivalent basis and therefore take no account of part-time working.
GDS dentists provide NHS dental services in "high street" practices and carry out the majority of NHS dental treatment in the United Kingdom. The proportion of NHS or private dental treatment that a GDS dentist provides is solely at the discretion of the dentist. GDS dentists are required to provide a full range of NHS treatment to maintain the oral health of the patients that are registered with them for capitation (children) or continuing care (adults).
Patients wishing to register with a GDS dentist can obtain details of dentists accepting new patients in their area by contacting NHS Direct.
§ Mr. Hutton
General dental practitioners (GDPs) working in the national health service general dental services are self employed. They are free to choose and vary the location of their practice and their level of commitment to GDS dentistry.
It is therefore not possible to quantify the number of vacancies.
The number of GDPs continues to increase. There were 3,130 general dental service practitioners working in the London NHS region at 30 June 2002, of which 2,758 were principal dentists. This compares to 2,884 and 2,676 respectively in June 1997.
§ Mr. Hutton
The available information is for the general dental service (GDS) in the London national health service region.
On 31 May 2002 37.9 per cent. of adults and 50.3 per cent. of children were registered with a GDS dentist in the London NHS region. The registration rates for 31 May 1997 for adults and children were 49.1 per cent. and 51.1 per cent. respectively.
Registrations now lapse if patients do not return to their dentists within 15 months. Registration rates will exclude patients who haven't been to their GDS dentist within the past 15 months and patients who receive dental treatment from other NHS dental services.
The registration rates for 31 May 2002 and 31 May 1997 cannot be compared because of changes in the registration period which affected the registration numbers from November 1997. Registration figures do not include patients attending dental access centres and patients who are not registered.236W
Patients seeking dental treatment or wishing to register with a GDS dentist can obtain details of dentists accepting new patients in their area by contacting NHS Direct.
§ Mr. Letwin
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he will take to ensure provision of NHS dentistry in Sherbourne. 
§ Ms Blears
[holding answer 7 March 2003]: The Government are committed to providing national health service dentistry for all who need and seek it. We recognise, however, that there are some areas of the country, including parts of Dorset, where it is difficult to find a NHS dentist.
I am advised that North Dorset Primary Care Trust (PCT) and South West Dorset PCT have recently formed the West Dorset dental planning group, which held its first meeting in February. The planning group includes general dental practitioners and also represents community dentistry and is looking at cost-effective ways to support local NHS dentists and increase general access to NHS dental provision within the Dorset area.
Osborne House, a new NHS dental practice in Yeovil, was opened in October 2002 and has recently registered 8,300 individuals within an overall capacity of 10,000. Some individuals living in the Sherborne area wishing to access NHS dental provision have been advised to register with Osborne House, which lies approximately six miles from Sherborne. Individuals within the Sherborne area who approach the Dorset Dental Helpline for routine dental treatment are currently also referred to general dental practitioners in Dorchester or Blandford Forum.
In the forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill, the Government proposes to legislate for far-reaching reform of NHS dental services. It is proposed that each PCT be given a duty to provide or secure the provision of primary dental services in its area to the extent that it considers reasonable to do so and be given the financial resources to do this. This will give PCTs the flexibility to address access issues in their area. Dentists who contract with a PCT will have a secure income in return for making a longer-term commitment to the NHS.