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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 00:12 GMT
'Shame' of NHS dental provision
Dentist with patient
Tories say the government has reneged on its pledge
Tories have branded as "shameful" figures which suggest less than half the population is registered with an NHS dentist.

It coincides with a survey showing serious "weaknesses" in the complaints procedure for NHS and private patients.

A survey of 91 health authorities in England and Wales identifies wide variations in adults registered with NHS dentists, ranging from just 27% in Kingston and Richmond to 57% in the Wirral.

Conservatives have seized on the results, claiming Tony Blair had reneged on his promises.


Tony Blair makes empty promises as his Government runs health for spin, not for patients

Simon Burns MP, shadow health spokesman
In the NHS Plan, the government stresses it is firmly committed to making high quality NHS dentistry available to all who want it by September 2001.

Simon Burns MP, a shadow health spokesman, said: "Tony Blair's words are worthless.

"The prime minister promised in 1999 that everyone would be able to see an NHS dentist within two years.

"His time to meet that commitment has run out.

"Tony Blair makes empty promises as his government runs health for spin, not for patients."

Mr Burns wrote to 104 chief executives of health authorities in November and the results apply to September 2001.

Public disaffection

The British Dental Association (BDA) believes difficulties of access are a symptom of the underlying problems affecting NHS dental care provision.

A BDA spokesman said: "It is in the best interest of both dentists and patients that greater investment is made in NHS dental services.

"New ideas and initiatives as well as further investment in people, premises and services, are needed to secure the future of NHS dental care.

"The general feeling among dentists is that the government has underestimated the profession's disaffection with the NHS."

The Department of Health (DoH) says more treatment than ever before is being carried out by NHS dentists and there are more dentists than ever before working in the NHS.

A DoH spokesman said: "Our main aim is to ensure NHS dental treatment can be obtained by all who need it.

"In line with the prime minister's pledge that by the end of September 2001 NHS dentistry would be available to all who require it simply by phoning NHS Direct, we have been working with the British Dental Association and, backed by additional investment, good progress has been made.

"We will continue to work with the profession to further develop NHS dentistry around patient needs, as part of modern primary care delivered at a local level.

Weaknesses

In a separate survey, the Consumers' Association found serious "weaknesses" in the complaints procedure for dental treatment, leaving private patients with a lack of redress.

In the survey, 155 people said they had experienced a problem with their dentist.

Of the two-thirds who made a complaint, the majority were dissatisfied with the way in which it was dealt.

Dentist treating patient
Patients were unhappy with complaints procedure
Some received no response at all, others reported their complaint took more than two years to resolve.

The report also calls for a single complaints system for NHS and private patients.

The BDA agrees in principle with the report's calls for a single complaints system, although it claims such a system would be more complex than it first appears.

A BDA spokesman said: "For some time, the BDA has been urging the General Dental Council to develop a private practice complaints procedure.

"The BDA is committed to ensuring that the patient-dentist relationship runs smoothly at all times."

Independent polls commissioned by the BDA have found that nine out of 10 people have confidence in the treatment they receive from their dentist.

See also:

17 Jan 01 | Health
'My dental agony'
19 Sep 00 | Health
100m dentistry plan criticised
29 Jun 00 | Health
Dentistry 'being ignored'
01 Aug 00 | Health
Concern over dental controls
18 Dec 00 | Health
How dentists are paid
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