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Dentists

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 12 May 1949

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26.

asked the Minister of Health what record is kept in his Department of the complaints of patients on the conduct of dentists under the terms of the National Health Service Act in regard to discourtesy and refusal to treat urgent cases; how many such cases have been brought to his notice; and what action he proposes to take in the matter.

25.

asked the Minister of Health whether his regulations permit a dentist who is approached for treatment under the National Health Service to refuse to accept the patient as a non-fee paying patient, but offer to give immediate treatment if a fee is paid.

No separate record has been kept of these complaints. A dentist has a right under the Act to decide whether he will accept any particular patient for treatment under the National Health Service but the simplified emergency procedure introduced on 1st April has, I believe, largely removed any cause for complaints of refusal to treat urgent cases.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable feeling on this matter where patients are suffering from acute toothache and are refused attention and told to come back in three months? Is it not possible to arrange some kind of roster system similar to that followed by the chemists whereby one of them takes on the duties of dealing with urgent matters while the others are closed?

Since the simplified procedure to which I have referred was introduced on 1st April as many as 33,768 cases have already been dealt with under it, and my information is that abuses to which reference has been made are on the decline. It is, of course, a quite unreasonable exercise of the right of a dentist to refuse to take a patient under the National Health Service and then to accept that patient for a private fee. It is not that it is illegal, but I believe that this bad practice is on the decline as the moral standards of the profession are raised.

If specific details of a case of an attempt to defeat the purposes of the Act are referred to my right hon. Friend, will he take action?

As I said, higher standards of conduct prevail, and I should have thought that to refuse a particular patient under the National Health Service and then treat that same patient immediately afterwards as a private patient is a practice that will be universally condemned.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that only a small number of dentists are following non-professional conduct, and that the large majority of dentists are working hard to make a success of the scheme.

As I have said, the practice is on the decline, and the vast majority of the dentists are operating quite properly.

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to imply that private fees are on the whole higher than those under the Health Scheme?

I have made no such suggestion, but hon. Members can guess for themselves whether this arises.

68.

asked the Minister of Health in view of the fact that negotiations between the public dental officers and the local authorities have now reached deadlock, what steps he is taking to stop the drift of dentists from the public service and to implement the Health Act as regards the priority classes.

This is primarily a matter for the local health authorities upon whom rests the duty of providing dental care for expectant and nursing mothers and young children. The Associations of local authorities concerned have not yet entered upon negotiations on the pay claim made on behalf of the public dental officers, but I am pleased to note that some local health authorities are making interim adjustments of salary scales pending the negotiations.

If these negotiations break down, will the Minister stand by and let the whole of the dental service for priority classes break down also or will he step in if no agreement can be reached?

I am ready to help the progress of negotiations by forming a dental Whitley Council, but I can do this only if both the dental organisations and the local authorities agree. I understand that the dental organisations, who previously refused to join such a council, are now prepared to come in, subject to certain reservations. The local authority associations have not yet agreed to come in. Discussions with them are in progress.

Has my right hon. Friend considered offering his good offices to settle this unfortunate dispute?

My hon. Friend can assume that I am not standing idly by seeing matters drifting.