): The number of courses of NHS dental treatments is rising. In the first 10 months of the financial year, courses of treatment for adults rose by 4.2 per cent. and courses of treatment for children, excluding basic treatments that are included in the capitation fee, rose by 2 per cent. compared with the same period in previous years. Unfortunately, we do not have the figures for the amount of private treatment, so I cannot answer the question in full.
I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful reply—things seem to be improving. I am aware of the 18 years of neglect; it is an uphill struggle. However, would he care to comment on a letter that I have received from a constituent in Ilkley, who tells me that, after being the patient of a dentist for 30 years, he has just been told that he can no longer have NHS treatment from the dentist and that, in future, it will cost him £96 for inspection and a polish?
I telephoned Airedale community health council to find out what evidence it had on what was going on. It tells me that its last survey, which was held in 1996, demonstrated that only 65 per cent. of the adult population could hope to obtain treatment on the NHS. The community health council also tells me that the situation does not seem to be improving, and that it is receiving more complaints. Consequently, in the next few months, it will probably conduct another survey.
Individual dentists may—as in the situation described by my hon. Friend—choose no longer to offer national health service treatment. My understanding of the situation in Keighley—my geography is not good enough to know whether it would apply also to my hon. Friend's constituent in Ilkley—is that some dental practices are still accepting national health service patients. Bradford health authority would be able to advise on the matter. The Administration are investing in measures to ensure that national health service registration and treatment are available. The investing in dentistry initiative, in particular, should enable about 600,000 additional patients to receive national health service dental treatment.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that in my constituency, the previous Government received much, probably justified criticism because so many dentists decided to opt out of the NHS. Labour politicians, both locally and nationally, said that they would solve the problem if they were elected. Will he tell my constituents why the situation, which was improving up until the general election, is starting again to decline—despite Labour's assurance that it would solve the problem?
If there is a developing problem in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, it certainly would be open to the health authority to make bids under the investing in dentistry scheme and to start pilots in personal dental services. I do not know—although I shall certainly look into the matter—whether such bids were made or, if they were made, whether they were successful. Initiatives have been taken by the Government which will enable proposals to be made to deal with problems in areas of great difficulty. I shall certainly investigate the case of South Dorset to see whether that effort was made, and whether full advantage has been taken of the Government's new initiatives.