Since 1 April this year, the Department has received some 6,000 letters from hon. Members, dentists and others about the provision of NHS dental services. In the same period, there have also been some 120 parliamentary questions on dentistry. NHS dental services remain available throughout England. Family health authorities will assist any patients experiencing difficulty in obtaining NHS dental treatment.
Does the Minister accept that that answer will fall very flat in Irlam in my constituency, a town of 17,000 souls who do not have a national health service dental facility? With reference to choice which the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, does the Minister also accept that a pensioner in Irlam in my constituency has received a letter from her dentist after being under his wing for a long time telling her that she could no longer be treated on the NHS? She must choose whether to pay or to travel eight miles down the road to another dentist.
I am very happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that the application of the FHSA to appoint a salaried dentist which was received last week was approved today. There will be an NHS salaried dentist in Irlam.
Is my hon. Friend aware that over half the dentists in Cornwall are refusing to take new NHS patients? Does he agree that that is both confusing and annoying? When can we expect tangible evidence to correct that unsatisfactory situation and not have to depend on temporary expedients such as the employment of mobile dentistry facilities?
I certainly share my hon. Friend's concern about the fact that a number of dentists in Cornwall and in his constituency have decided to withdraw from offering NHS dental services. My hon. Friend will be aware that the local FHSA has appointed two salaried dentists who are mobile precisely because the nature of my hon. Friend's constituency and others is such that they need to be able to move around. Given his concern, I will be very happy to draw his remarks to the attention of the FHSA in case it decides to make further application.
What action is the Minister taking to safeguard the school dental inspection service? Is he aware that that service is being threatened or severely curt ailed in some areas which means that children will no longer have annual dental inspections? If that happens, it will have a serious effect on children's teeth in future.
I hear what the hon. Lady says. However, she will also be aware that under the new dental contract there was a significant focusing of dental attention on young people and on children. I hope that she will welcome that development which should be set alongside the school dental programme.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield has been asked to report by Christmas and I have no reason to believe that he will not be able to fulfil that request.