Reid promises to stop the rot in dental care

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Indy Lifestyle Online

John Reid, the Health Secretary, will try to seize back the initiative today after a tough week for Tony Blair by announcing the fulfilment of a pledge by the Prime Minister to provide more dental care on the NHS.

John Reid, the Health Secretary, will try to seize back the initiative today after a tough week for Tony Blair by announcing the fulfilment of a pledge by the Prime Minister to provide more dental care on the NHS.

Mr Reid will promise a boost to the provision of NHS dentists across the country to end the scandal of patients who have had to travel miles to get dental care on the NHS.

Mr Blair made a promise in 1999 that all patients would have access to an NHS dentist within two years, but his pledge turned out to be almost worthless for many patients, who discovered it merely meant they were given advice on where to find their nearest dentist on a telephone helpline. It did not guarantee them a place on a dentist's list.

MPs on all sides have protested to ministers about the need for more NHS dental cover in their areas, as patients have become more disillusioned. The Government blamed the last Tory government for the exodus of dentists from the NHS, following a cut in fees, which led many to seek higher incomes in the private sector.

Long queues of patients in the street for new NHS dentists have embarrassed ministers and Mr Reid will say today that a substantial increase in dental-care funding and a drive to recruit more dentists will enable more patients to get treatment on the NHS.

His announcement follows a three-year study into NHS dental provision announced by Lord Hunt of King's Heath, when he was a Health minister, in 2001. The review has been pre-empted by other reports which show that the UK as a whole has an acute shortage of trained dentists. A study by the University of Bath, published in the Journal of Health Geographics, said the shortfall could amount to 5,200 dentists, putting the UK at the bottom of a European league of dentists per 10,000 people.

Figures issued by the British Dental Association largely substantiated the claim. A BDA spokesman said: "One of the reasons for this shortage of trained dentists is the closure in the early 1990s of two dental schools. This effectively put a cap on the number of dentists able to graduate at around 800. The BDA has been calling for a 25 per cent increase in undergraduate places, taking the possible number of graduates each year to 1,000."

Dental academics are already severely stretched, with many posts unfilled. The BDA said last night that any increase in the number of student places would need to be matched by increased funding and better support for those already working in dental academia, as well as better terms and conditions to encourage dentists into teaching.

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