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Dental Treatment

Volume 181: debated on Tuesday 20 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action is being taken by his Department to ensure that all areas have access to national health service dental treatment.

The Department operates a scheme offering financial incentives to dentists to set up in shortage areas.

Will the Minister guarantee the people of the north-east of England a dental service within the health service or are we seeing another way of privatising the dental service?

Is my hon. Friend aware that many dentists are wrestling with their consciences while considering whether they should go for more private practice than NHS practice? My dentist is one of those who finds himself in that predicament. There must be more inducement for dentists to stay with the NHS than there has been previously. They are very inclined to go private.

I read the same newspaper articles as my hon. Friend and I am obviously concerned by them. We have a choice between believing the Daily Mirror or the British Dental Association. The BDA has stated:

"the public should have no difficulty in finding an NHS dentist in any part of the country."
That surely is the important assurance that I gave the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell).

Will my hon. Friend take it from me that in the north-east of England there is an adequate supply of dentists, and excellent dentists? The thing that is putting off dentists at present is the amount of paperwork that they are having to complete in accordance with their new contracts. Will my hon. Friend consider that? The system needs streamlining urgently.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we should always be reviewing the paperwork and bureaucratic requirements of the NHS to ensure that they are at the minimum. We must ensure also that there is a sufficient flow of information to allow management to discharge its tasks effectively.

Is the Minister aware that the terms of the new dental contract make it increasingly uneconomic to practice NHS dentistry in London and that the majority of dentists in London and the south-east voted against the contract for that reason? My constituents are finding increasingly that their dentists are moving over to entirely private work. Is the Minister further aware that many dentists and many other members of the public feel that the Government are trying to introduce the privatisation of the dental service through the back door?

I repeat not my words but those of the BDA, which stated that

"the public should have no difficulty in finding an NHS dentist in any part of the country."
The hon. Lady is an unlikely exponent of the point of view that £30,000 a year is not a decent living wage.