Dental treatment for service personnel is provided free of charge by Defence Medical Services in the UK, at overseas garrisons and on deployed operations, including ships at sea. The families of service personnel who accompany them when serving abroad also receive treatment from Defence Dental Services dentists. Dental care for service families in the UK is the responsibility of the NHS. We acknowledge that some service families have encountered problems due to frequent relocation, but we are working closely with the Department of Health to monitor the situation, and it has informed us that it has taken a number of initiatives to improve access to dental care.
Does the Minister agree that service personnel deserve access to the very best public services? At present, they are not equipped, armed or housed properly, so is not the lack of access to dental care another example of the Government’s neglect of service personnel and their families?
It is a bit rich of the hon. Gentleman to talk about the funding of public services, given that in his party’s plans for public services there are no guarantees of what will be funded. I accept that the provision of dental services for some service personnel has been a problem, which is why, as I said, we are looking at that and working with the NHS to introduce a number of initiatives to improve access to universal care. May I also say that on my recent visit to Iraq and Afghanistan I saw first-class quality dental care being given to our service personnel in theatre? In fact, I had a discussion with someone who was receiving treatment while on operations. That underlines the Government’s commitment to ensure that our service personnel receive the best dental treatment and the best health service.
Recently, I was told about a service family who could not access new dental care because of their rapid mobility around the country, and had to make a round trip of at least 300 miles to visit their previous dentist. The Minister mentioned a number of initiatives taken by the Department of Health, but given that service families are subject to enforced mobility because of circumstances forced on them by the Government, which they accept, what steps will he take to address that issue and make sure that they receive care that is at least as good as that provided for other British citizens?
As I just said to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), our officials have regular discussions with national health service officials to review the initiatives that they are taking. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) will know that initiatives have been taken by Ministers in the Department of Health and reported to the House. For instance, there has been a 25 per cent. increase in the number of dentists since 1997. Following the discussions that we have had with our friends in the Department of Health, we believe that that increase will continue and the service will improve for everybody, including service personnel.