Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Blair: NHS dentistry for all
Tony Blair has commited Labour to a modernised NHS
Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised that everybody will have easy access to an NHS dentist within the next two years.
During his speech to the Labour Party's annual conference in Bournemouth, Mr Blair also highlighted initiatives to improve care for cancer and cataract patients.
Although everybody has the right to see an NHS dentist at the moment, many people find it difficult to register with one, even though health authorities are supposed to make sure this is possible.
Dentists have been scaling down their commitment to the NHS following concern that low fees made the work unviable.
Patients will be able to get advice on how to contact an NHS dentist through the 24-hour telephone advice line, NHS Direct, and through a further 30 "phone and go" dental schemes to be set up by the government.
Callers to NHS Direct will be directed to a NHS dentist who is within convenient travelling distance, or - out of hours - to an local emergency dental service.
The "phone and go" schemes will see NHS dentists working in easily accessible locations such as the new primary care walk-in centres, allowing people easy access to high quality care.
British Dental Association chairman Dr Bill Allen said: "We look forward to working with the government, but we need to see the detailed proposal.
"We hope it shows a continued commitment to general dental services and imaginative new initiatives to build on what is already in place."
The Prime Minister also said booked appointments would be introduced for cancer and cataract patients from next year.
The government has promised that in the year 2000 patients with suspected cancer will have a hospital appointment within two weeks.
"One-stop" clinics will allow all diagnostic tests to be carried out in a single visit and results made available on the same day.
A total of £20m is to be pumped into cataract services, funding 50 modern treatment and recovery facilities across the country offering a fast "armchair" service where people could go to be treated without needing a hospital bed.
The centres will boost the number of cataract operations carried out each year from 170,000 up to 250,000 a year.
The aim is that no patient will have to wait more than six months from referral to treatment.
Mr Blair said: "I say to the British Medical Association, you want our reforms to slow down, I really want them to speed up.
However, doctors leaders have warned that Mr Blair will only succeed in achieving widespread reforms to the health service if extra resources and manpower are made available.
BMA representatives, addressing a conference fringe meeting, said greater openness and co-operation from the government was essential if improvements were to be successfully phased in.
Dr Peter Hawker, chairman of the BMA's consultants and specialist committee cited the government's pledge to improve services and treatment waiting times for cancer patients as a prime example where doctors were not told about the Labour government's intentions.
'Great aim, but impractical'
Dr Hawker said: "We think this is a great aim but we don't have the facilities to deliver.
The doctors warned that schemes such as the cancer initiative could skew priorities.
Dr Hawker said: "Everyone takes cancer very seriously but different cancers progress at varying rates.
"The important thing is to have the time to sort things out and treat properly. We need more doctors."