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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Dentists top Tory health agenda
The shortage of NHS dentists continues to worry the Tories
The Tories say there is too much of a "drill and fill" culture
Plans to persuade dentists to stay in the NHS were unveiled at the Tory party conference on Tuesday.

The new action plan is also aimed at encouraging dentists to focus on prevention rather than a "treadmill of treatments".

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley used his speech in Bournemouth to renew calls for choice in the NHS and for scrapping central targets.

He said the Tories wanted to make the NHS once again "the envy of the world".

New bills

Recent months have seen reports of hundreds of people queuing to sign up with new NHS dentists in some parts of Britain.

A report for the Department of Health in July said there was a shortage of 1,850 dentists in England alone in 2003.

But the same month the government pledged an extra 368m for dentistry in England by 2005.

Andrew Lansley
Lansley says public health will be his personal priority
Under Mr Lansley's plans, dentists would be paid according to the number of patients they had on their books rather than billing for each treatment.

The Tories say the idea is to give NHS dentists a steady income while discouraging a "drill and fill culture" in favour of prevention.

Patients would also be able to choose to pay a monthly fee so they were not caught out by sudden large payments.

Praise for doctors

In his speech, Mr Lansley said: "In a reformed NHS, instead of Mr Blair's failed promise to give everyone the chance to see an NHS dentist, we will give patients the means and dentists the incentive to put NHS dentistry back on our high street."

The shadow minister is anxious to counter Labour claims that the Tories want to run down NHS doctors and nurses.

He recalled the birth of his daughter Martha last year as an example of how the NHS is there for people "in the moments of hope, and of despair".

But he said people no longer saw the NHS as the envy of the world. The differences in healthcare with other countries were too big, pointing to problems with hospital super bugs and waiting times.

"Under Labour, although we've got first class people, they are working in a second class system," Mr Lansley said.

Timetable

He is unveiling a timetable for the start of a Tory government, pledging to:

  • Abolish central targets on his first day

  • Prepare in the first week for the right to choose policy, allowing patients to select which NHS hospital they want for treatment, with information on hospital performance

  • Introduce in the first month legislation to "free the NHS from Whitehall controls" and change the framework for mental health services.

He argued that allowing patients to choose, including giving them information about hospital infection rates, would help drive up standards.

Sexually transmitted diseases

Mr Lansley also promised to take direct responsibility for public health, rather than leaving that task to a junior minister.

Labour's "fragmented" approach had led to a "crisis," he claimed.

He pointed to "shocking" evidence of doubling sexually transmitted infections, high levels of smoking amongst teenagers and binge drinking causing cirrhosis of the liver in young people.

He plans to appoint an independent health commission to look at improving public health - an issue he says he will make a personal priority.

Payment?

Health Secretary John Reid said: "On health, the Conservatives are retreating to the right.

"Tory health policy is to force people to pay for operations or wait years in pain."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said the Tory plans were big on rhetoric but lacked genuine ideas and would do little to relieve the dental crisis.

"Tory chatter on NHS dentists is inadequate and will do little to relieve the crisis in the sector," said Mr Burstow.

Ian Wylie, chief executive of the British Dental Association, said neglect of dentistry by successive government was evidence in the queues for NHS dentists seen across the country.


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