I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the number of people with access to NHS dentistry has increased by nearly three quarters of a million over the past year.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. In Milton Keynes in recent years we have seen greater access to dentistry. One area of particular concern is access to dentistry for children, so may I press my right hon. Friend on how exactly he will address that problem?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have made it very clear that, contrary to the practice of the previous Government, we are not looking for dentists to deny access to NHS dentistry to children whose parents are not registered with them. Alongside increasing access to dentistry as a whole, we intend specifically to secure increased access for children to NHS dentistry. That will be even more the case in the pilots that we will start this month, which are specifically intended to secure a more preventive approach to dentistry, which maintains good oral health. That is especially important for children.
Does the Secretary of State not understand that there has been real progress with the Tameside and Glossop primary care trust and their “access, booking and choice” facility, which guarantees access to NHS dentistry when they require it for anyone not already registered with an NHS dentist? Does he not understand that there are real concerns that with his reorganisation, and without that priority focus by the primary care trust, those advances may be lost?
On the contrary, with the progressive transfer of responsibilities to the NHS commissioning board there will be much more consistency in contracting for access to NHS dentistry, which at the moment is often a lottery in different places across the country, with the amounts paid per unit of dental activity varying dramatically between neighbouring practices. The new pilots are intended to achieve something that was not achieved under either of the two previous dental contracts, by securing a much stronger preventive approach based on capitation and registration for dentists. It has been welcomed by the dental profession and it promises a great deal for a new contract.
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that I have some slight interest in this subject. Access to NHS dentistry is related to what is on offer. Does the Secretary of State agree that with the huge advances in dentistry, we should be reviewing what is and is not available, and what should or should not be available, from NHS general dental practitioners?
My hon. Friend will know that under the new dental contracts, I want to arrive at a point where everybody who wishes to has access to NHS dentistry. I was pleased to see that when we set out the details of the piloting proposal, the chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, Dr John Milne, said:
“we are encouraged that the Department of Health is to begin testing new ways of delivering care. We are pleased that two principles that we believe are particularly important—quality of care and a continuing care relationship between practitioner and patient—are central to what is being piloted.”
As in other areas, we are moving from a system that simply incentivises activity to one that is much more focused on quality and outcomes.