Orders of the Day — National Health Service Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th March 1961.

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Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central 12:00 am, 29th March 1961

We did our best during the Committee stage of the Bill to offer arguments to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary whereby he could have met us in our objections to these additional charges. We were not successful.

I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said that the Bill is adding to the charges on the National Health Service in order to deter people from procuring dentures when they need them. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will deny that. He may say that he does not expect this to deter anyone, in view of the rise in the standard of wages and incomes in the nation as a whole in the past few years since the original charges were imposed. He will remember that we put the matter to him in our arguments as fairly as possible.

We said that when, in 1951, these charges on teeth were imposed, there were certain criteria in the mind of the then Minister of Health. The question of deterrence and abuse he put aside, because no one believes that people wish to have their teeth pulled out for fun and to wear dentures if they are not necessary. But this was an easy way to get money, and a method of collecting it that would not be expensive, as the overhead charges would not be high. I have always admitted that this, if we have to have charges, is a reasonable argument.

My argument today is that times have changed, and that if there was any excuse in 1951 for imposing limited charges there is no excuse now. The very fact that the nation is more affluent is surely an argument that we can afford to remit all Health Service charges altogether.

We have heard interesting figures, some of which we produced and others which were produced by the right hon. Gentleman. He told us that in 1959 the gross cost of dentures was £13¾ million and the net cost, therefore, was roughly £7½ million, but that for treatment it was apparent that the cost to citizens of putting their hands into their pockets was a much smaller percentage than the 50 per cent. they must find in obtaining dentures. The gross cost of treatment, he said, was £38,700,000, and the net cost £35,300,000.

It is a specious and, on the surface, an excellent argument to say that we are making the charges in such a way that people will be moved, or impelled, or driven to care for their teeth and to conserve them, because it will be cheaper for them to have conservation treatment rather than wait and have to wear dentures. The difficulty in this argument and why I find it specious is that men and women, particularly young people, do not think about these matters, nor do they know what they should do to conserve their teeth and gums. The Minister knows that we are still a long way from taking preventive action on a national scale. We therefore fall back on the argument that if the nation is wealthier than it was in those earlier days when the charges were first imposed—and they were imposed at a time of great national crisis, the time of the Korean War—this is now the time when the charges should be removed.

Let the Minister consider the figures which he gave us. In 1950, the cost of the dental service was about £48 million. That fell in 1953 to below £30 million and in 1959 the figure was £52½ milion. I know that the first figure includes the higher remuneration which dentists were then getting and that the fall to below £30 million in some respects represents the effect of cuts in that remuneration. However, the latest figure of £52½ million for 1959 does not have the value in terms of goods and services of half what the same amount would have brought ten years ago.

That suggests that, in reality, we are not spending anything like as much on the general dental service as we did in the first years of the service. There is ample evidence to show that not nearly so many people require dentists now as was the case in the early years. The figures are that 3·3 million dentures were supplied in 1950, 1·2 million in 1953 and 1·6 million in 1959. We know that there was a great backlog to be made up in the early years and that a tremendous number of people then required treatment for dental diseases. Many people were then dentureless because they could not afford them and did without them. That was a national scandal as well as being to the disadvantage of those people.

I am delighted that the number of treatments is now increasing and, according to the evidence, is going still higher. When one considers the evidence dispassionately, it seems that we can well afford to turn our backs on these extra charges. It would be out of order to plead for the removal of all the charges, but I maintain that there is no need for this extra charge of 5s. In Committee, we put forward an Amendment suggesting an increase of 6d. instead of 5s. and there is no need to repeat the arguments which we then made which were rebutted and refused by the Minister. However, I hope that even at this late stage the right hon. Gentleman will accept that there is no need for this further charge and that he will give further consideration to it.