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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 5:45 pm, 4th March 2020

I do agree with that. I did not want to get into party politics, but the Labour party gave the 2006 dental contract to dentists, and we have seen the decline in the availability of dental care in Cornwall from that point. I understand that it cannot be reviewed for another couple of years, but I believe there is work that can be done before then to respond to the challenge, and that is what I want to raise today.

Since I last raised this issue in the House, I have been asking my constituents about their experience. I have heard about disabled people who have to consider accessibility—they cannot get in to the dentist’s and therefore cannot get an appointment. Pensioners are unable to afford private treatment, and have been left stranded without provision for years. Some were getting NHS treatment, but then practices stopped offering it, as they are unable to keep up with demand. Pregnant women do not get access to NHS dental care for the entire pregnancy, but are offered it a long time afterwards, even though it is free during a pregnancy. People have ended up travelling further and further, and I heard of constituents travelling to Bristol and London to get the dentist care they need, which cannot be good for us as we try to reduce our carbon footprint. As I have said, there is also a lack of access for children.

In the time I have, let me share some of the comments that have been made. Mike left the Royal Navy and had a three-year wait for an NHS dentist. Then he got a dentist, but appointments have been constantly cancelled, so he is not seeing a dentist. He believes that the armed forces covenant should offer dental provision. Fred said that he has been waiting five years to get a dentist in Cornwall, so he is now registered at a London dentist, even though he lives in my constituency 300 miles away.

A gentleman who worked away a lot, but his family was in Cornwall, said that he, sadly, did not visit the dentist for two years so was “removed” from the dentist’s list. He had cracked his tooth, but was not able to see a dentist, despite his wife and children still being registered and able to get an appointment. Another gentleman who had been living in Penzance for eight years had to wait two years to be placed at a dentist’s. He got a dentist, but then found that they kept cancelling, so he had not seen a dentist in three years. There is story after story of this happening.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of work was done last summer by the former MP Sarah Newton and me and other colleagues in Cornwall, and a plan was put in place. NHS England said that it would engage with the national NHS England dental workforce team to look at a more innovative way to attract dental staff to Cornwall and put forward a plan by the end of the year—that was last year. It also said:

“Work is also under way at a national level to identify solutions to the dental recruitment and retention pressures in NHS dentist services, and to understand and address the constraints of current national NHS dentist contracts”,

which has been referred to. I would like the Minister to look at what has happened to the plan Cornwall was promised at the end of last year and what is happening to the review that is going on across the county.

We are doing work locally, but it needs the commitment of Government and others. There is an irony in that we train a lot of dentists in Truro but they do not seem to stay in Cornwall so this also needs the involvement and commitment of the Peninsula dental school, as well as NHS providers and NHS England, to get a grip of this and to ensure that children and adults, particularly vulnerable adults, are no longer discriminated against and no longer face these health inequalities.

We must come together quickly and creatively to ensure that dental care provision is addressed. As we have heard, if we get it right very early in life then we save ourselves a whole host of problems later on.