Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Conservative, Mole Valley 3:46 pm, 16th January 2020

I thought, Madam Deputy Speaker, that immediately I stood up you would announce that the time limit was down to three minutes.

The number of medically trained professionals who have come into the House has apparently risen dramatically. I am one of them, but I have been here a wee while. I warn the new ones that their profession will lean on them to put the case until they are driven to it, as I am today.

I wish to pick on child dental health in particular. For decades, the statistics have been absolutely appalling. Deciduous teeth—baby teeth—are particularly susceptible to decay: their enamel is much thinner than that of permanent teeth. Before SNP Members stand up to tell me about it, I should say that action has been taken on care and education, particularly in schools, and to some degree it is working, but those children for whom it does not work, or works only partially, will require extractions. I can remember looking at little kids in east London with appalling mouths—broken-down teeth, abscesses—who were crying and having sleepless nights, and having to refer them to hospital for a general anaesthetic.

The statistics today are terrible. Last year, more than 45,000 children and young people aged up to 19 were admitted to hospital because of tooth decay. They included 26,000 five to nine-year-olds, making tooth decay the leading cause of hospital admissions for that age group. Last year, there were more than 40,000 hospital operations and extractions for children and young people. That is 160 a day. It is a complete waste of money, it is completely preventable and it is occupying space in our national health service.

Education is starting to make a difference, but far and away the best-proven method to reduce tooth decay among children, and even more so among adults, is fluoridation of the water supply. In the United Kingdom, approximately 330,000 people have naturally occurring fluoride in their water supply. In addition, another 5.8 million in different parts of the country are supplied with fluoridated water. But that covers only 10% of the total population. The percentage covered in the United States is 74% and rising; in Canada it is 44% and rising; in Australia it is 80% and rising; and even little New Zealand has managed 70%. We have fluoridation legislation, but it is left for local authorities to instigate and compel companies to fluoridate their water supplies. There is no financial advantage for the local authorities, but the savings to the NHS would be considerable.

The second problem with the current legislation is that few local authority boundaries are coterminous with the boundaries of the water companies. That makes direction and implementation complex. The sensible answer is for legislation to apply nationwide. That is not in the Queen’s Speech. It could be put into a Queen’s Speech, but it will take a brave Government, I hope supported by the Opposition, to include and implement that. I warn that whenever I speak about fluoridation, the green ink letters fly and broomsticks whizz around my house as people complain. However, it works for child dental health care, which is deplorable in this country.