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Dental Checks

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 5 June 1990

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8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will now remove the charge on dental checks.

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will now remove the charge on dental checks.

I see no reason to do so. It is right that adults who can afford to do so should make a contribution to this part of their dental care.

Are not dental checks an important part of preventive medicine? Has the Secretary of State noticed that independent research shows that the number of dental checks is falling? Although that may save money, is not it bad for the health of Government policy?

I think that dental checks are important, which is why I think that those who can afford to do so will willingly pay £3·45 for a dental check. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that 40 per cent. of the population is exempt from any charge. I know of no evidence of a sustained decline in the number of dental checks. Indeed, over any lengthy period, there has been a steady increase in the number of dental checks and in the total number of dental treatments in the National Health Service.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend encourage the dental practice board to make available treatment under the EC 18 certificate? I understand that recently the board was denied all knowledge of it and that therefore some patients have been paying for their treatment.

I am not aware of those problems. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing them to my attention. I shall take up the matter with the dental health board and let my hon. Friend have a written response to her question.

Further to the answer to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have been talking to dentists, because all the dental surgeons to whom I have spoken over the past few months have said clearly that only people in two income categories can afford a full, prolonged and comprehensive system of dental care—those on full state benefits who do not have to pay and those in an income category such that they can afford to pay—and that the bulk of people, who fall somewhere between the two, are cutting their dental treatment because of the cost. How can the Secretary of State deduce from that that there is no downturn in preventive medicine?

Of course, similar representations are made to me by dentists whenever dental charges are raised generally, in line with the longstanding policy of this Government and of previous Labour Governments. However, it is clear that over any sustained period there has been a steady increase in the number of dental treatments given under the National Health Service. Over a lengthy period I expect to see a continued and satisfactory level of dental check-ups. I do not believe that for the 60 per cent. of the population who are asked to pay, £3·45 is a deterrent charge for a perfectly reasonable part of any individual's preventive medicine—[Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to hon. Members to listen to the questions and not to conduct private conversations, which is disruptive.

Is not it true that the new dental contract will, for the first time, pay dentists a fee for the regular patients on their list, without requiring any contribution from the patients? Although it is understandable that dentists feel some concern about the details, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a positive vote from dentists in the forthcoming ballot on the new contract would be a vote for prevention and would provide a much-needed shift in emphasis towards better dental health?

Yes, I agree. The new contract will enable dentists to offer patients all-round continuing care, including emergency cover, treatment plans, better information and the replacement, free of charge, of certain restorations that fail within 12 months, and so on. I have agreed the new contract with the dentists' representatives and they are commending it to their members. I very much hope that the dentists will vote in favour of the new contract, which represents a substantial improvement in our dental services, for which many dentists have been pressing for many years.

How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House that there is no evidence of a decline when the Minister for Health told the House in February that there had been a slight dip and when in May his Department reported a reduction of 700,000 cases, thus bucking the upward trend throughout Europe? Does the Secretary of State accept that he has got his figures wrong and will he go back and do his homework—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but will hon. Members, especially those below the Gangway, desist from conducting private conversations, which are very disruptive?

Does the Secretary of State accept that he has plainly got his figures—and his policies—wrong?

There was a dip, but I referred to long-term trends. There is always a dip—I have no doubt that this was the case when the Labour Government were in power—when charges are increased for any part of NHS services. However, over the years, the dips are not sustained. I repeat that I do not believe that £3·45 is a deterrent charge for the 60 per cent. of the population who are liable to pay the charge, and nor do I believe that any evidence will be forthcoming to demonstrate that it is.