The number of school dentists in England and Wales on 1st October was equivalent to 827 full-time officers, an increase of over 100 since January last. A further similar increase would bring the service back to its 1948 level, but an equivalent of over 1,000 additional dentists would still be needed to give a ratio of 1 to 3,000 children.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and I recently sent to local authorities a joint circular, of which I am sending the hon. Member a copy, suggesting ways in which they might build up their dental services.
Is the Minister aware that we are glad to hear that some progress is being made, but was not an offer made recently by the dental profession to set aside a certain amount of time for the treatment of school children? For what reason was that scheme turned down? Would not that scheme have the effect of helping this programme?
The Question deals with the school dental service. I know that the hon. Member will be glad to hear that, although every year since 1948 the number has decreased, this year we have had an increase for the first time. In January, the number was 713 and for October the number is 827.
I will certainly do my best, but information about the increase is only now coming in and some authorities who have been advertising and trying to get dentists may not have obtained the extra number. But if the hon. Member will put down a Question I will see what I can do.
There are at present two full-time school dental officers working in Lewisham. I understand from the local education authority that there has been some recent improvement in the time children have to wait for treatment and that they are considering whether the service could be further improved by using a mobile dental unit.
Yes, I am glad to say there has been an improvement. The average time that children have to wait for new appointments is two months, and for re-appointment two weeks.