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The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to improve the level of National Health Service dental provision in north and east Yorkshire.
My Lords, in the next two months, three new practices will open in north and east Yorkshire—in Skipton, Beverley and Driffield. A fourth practice, in Filey, is doubling its capacity. The strategic health authority has benefited from substantial recent growth funding of almost £8 million in the past year, benefiting over 400,000 patients. The Department of Health has this year recruited 12 Polish dentists to improve access to dentistry in north and east Yorkshire.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his encouraging Answer. However, given the poorer than average dental health among children in the Yorkshire and Humber region and the gap in provision of NHS dentists between the north and south, does he not agree that, to correct the imbalance and address the further dental needs of the area, it is important that a new dental school is established there—especially as experience shows that the majority of dentists who train in an area remain there when their training is completed?
My Lords, we will, of course, consider that. I do not think that the noble Baroness would expect me to announce a new dental school in her area across the Floor of the House today. I recognise that that is a shameful dereliction of duty, but I am unable to do so. I would just remind her that the Government have expanded the number of dental places and have 859 dentists in training, an extra 189 this year. We are not the party that closed two dental schools in the 1990s.
My Lords, when my noble friend is able to announce the establishment of a new dental school in this country, I hope he will take particular account of the qualities displayed by the Hull York Medical School, around which the new dental school is likely to be established. Does he agree that the school's record in developing its reputation in a very short time, two years, augurs very well for a dental school in the area?
My Lords, we recognise the qualities in all the dental schools that have been producing good quality dentists. I also recognise that this Question is becoming a little like a commercial for new dental schools in different parts of the country.
My Lords, of course I welcome the new dentists in north and east Yorkshire, but can the Minister tell the House what other specific areas will be receiving new dentists and whether they will be working within the general dental services or be principally salaried dentists working within dental access centres?
My Lords, we are working with local SHAs and PCTs to look at how best to improve the dental services in their areas. Areas other than north and east Yorkshire have also received a lot of attention. A lot of the new services in north and east Yorkshire are personal dental services rather than GDS. We operate with the local people on the basis of the most suitable way of improving services to patients.
My Lords, does the water supply for north and east Yorkshire contain the levels of fluoride that would do much to reduce dental decay in the area? Does my noble friend agree that that would be one way in which we could reduce the need for dental provision in that area of the country?
My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that we are strong supporters of fluoridation and we have enabled people to vote locally on fluoride schemes. I do not have the details of that area in my head but I will write to my noble friend.
My Lords, when planning for future provision of dental school places, will the Government use existing access to general dental services and specialist dentist training as one factor in making that decision?
My Lords, a wide range of issues is taken into account when establishing a new dental school. However, as with medical education, it is often easier to expand quickly by expanding an existing school rather than creating a new one.
My Lords, I declare an interest as being of and from Hull. I want to pick up the point that the Minister has just made. I agree with him that economic advantages are to be gained, but perhaps in looking at the proposals it would be right also to consider whether another university or group of universities introducing new ways of training dentists would carry marks.
My Lords, that is certainly being done in the area of medical education, and I will look to see whether it is being applied in dental education as well.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that over the years dentists have complained that they have been on a treadmill without much flexibility to work at a pace of their own choosing. Does he share my concern a the comment by dental bodies that the new draft GDS contract does nothing to alleviate that and that they still fear they will be working on the treadmill that they have known for so many years?
No, my Lords, I do not accept those concerns. In the past, when dentists were paid for each item of treatment, they rightly complained that they were on a drill-and-fill treadmill. We have negotiated a new contract in which their payment relates to an annual level of activity in return for a guaranteed NHS contract. This activity will be 5 per cent below that performed by dentists in the historic test period, and it will give them plenty of time to work on preventive measures with their patients.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the result of a survey reported this morning states that the dental profession is faced with a challenge because people who benefited from the introduction of the National Health Service are now becoming elderly and are not taking up dentures because their teeth have been well and truly protected? Is it not encouraging that this side of the House, and not the other side, supported the introduction of the National Health Service?
My Lords, I am always grateful to my noble friends for reminding the House who set up the National Health Service and the benefits that it has provided for the people of this country.