Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:41 am on 9th March 2006.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 11:41 am, 9th March 2006

To ask the Scottish Executive what measures it is taking to address the shortfall in the number of dentists in Scotland. (S2O-9244)

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We are increasing the number of graduates from Scotland's dental schools from 108, which the figure was five years ago, to 135 this year and 143 by 2008. We have given health boards new powers to recruit salaried dentists and we have helped with the recruitment from Poland of dentists for the Scottish national health service. We have put in place golden hello payments for new and returning dentists who want to practice in the NHS in Scotland. Furthermore, we will from September this year offer bursaries to dental students in return for a commitment to work in the NHS in Scotland after they graduate. Those bursaries will be worth up to £4,000 per student per year.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I am sure that all that will be a comfort to the Presiding Officer this week.

The Executive must be aware that a third of all graduate dentists leave Scotland to take up their first posts. Although the Polish dentists are welcome, they will provide treatment for only 80,000 patients. Given that more than 1 million under-16s and over-65s are not registered with an NHS dentist and that, from 1 April 2006, free dental checks will be available to all, how will the shortfall be met?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I hope that Tricia Marwick listened to my answer to her initial question. I was delighted to read in the press this week that the Scottish National Party is supporting our proposition for bursaries for students who will commit to work for the NHS in Scotland.

I hear comments by members from sedentary positions. It is a shame that those members did not listen to Rhona Brankin on 17 March last year, when she said that

"we plan to introduce a bursary scheme for dental students who commit to NHS dentistry on graduation".—[Official Report, 17 March 2005; c 15535.]

Indeed, if Tricia Marwick had read the dental action plan that was published on the same day last year, she would have seen exactly the same point in it.

A range of measures are being introduced—including bursaries—to tie students. Dental students who receive four years' bursary will commit to work in the NHS in Scotland for four years after they complete their training. I hope that Tricia Marwick will welcome that measure.