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Nhs Dentists

Volume 401: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2003

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What progress he has made in establishing the commissioning of NHS dentistry by primary care trusts. [103204]

The Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill was introduced on Wednesday 12 March. It proposes that each primary care trust be given a duty to secure or provide primary dental services to the extent that it considers it reasonable to do so.

Does my hon. Friend accept that previous initiatives, such as investing in dentistry and locating an NHS dentist through NHS Direct, have run their course and still many adults cannot find a dentist who will accept them as an NHS patient? Does he agree that the day cannot come too quickly when PCTs commission services so that there is a full range of NHS dentistry services available? Will he consider taking interim action to ensure that NHS dental services are boosted now?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We were right to take short-term and medium-term steps to ensure that people had access to NHS dentistry through dental access centres and the NHS commitment scheme. It is now right to ensure that PCTs can commission for dentistry in their locality to meet local needs, and we have put the Bill before Parliament to do that. My hon. Friend campaigns for his constituents in Stafford, and his local PCT is keen to act in that respect.

Does the Minister recall the Prime Minister's promise that everyone would have access to an NHS dentist by September 2001? That promise was broken: fewer than half the people in this country have such access. Why was the Prime Minister's promise broken?

The hon. Gentleman asked me precisely the same question in January and today I will give him the same reply. The promise was not broken. People have access to a dentist through NHS Direct. Dentist registration numbers are up, as is the number of dentists. He will know that the number of people registered fell to 16 million under the Conservative Government, whereas it is now 23.5 million.

Is not access to NHS dentistry a particular problem in areas where the population is growing at a more rapid rate than the national average, as is true in some parts of the east midlands? Cannot some of the gaps in provision be filled by a more effective amalgam of action by the Department of Health, the British Dental Association and primary care trusts? Will my hon. Friend look into the particular problem in areas like mine?

My hon. Friend will be pleased that I am in dialogue with the British Dental Association, and we propose dental support teams to target access problems in specific areas. I will ensure that his area is considered, along with many others, to make sure that constituents get access to a dentist.