28 May 2003

S2M-43 Dental Services in Grampian

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): ...
The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-43, in the name of Richard Baker, on dental services in Grampian.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament welcomes the proposals for a dental outreach centre outlined by the new Scottish Executive in A Partnership for a Better Scotland; recognises that there are huge challenges in addressing the shortage of NHS dental services in Grampian; further welcomes the fact that all 10 postgraduate training places in local dental practices have now been filled, and welcomes consultation on the further development of dental training in Aberdeen.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I, too, congratulate Mr Richard Baker on securing such an important and timely debate. We tend to forget how much progress has been made in dentistry over the years. Indeed, the first dental register was established only in the late 1930s. My first dentist had no qualifications whatever in dentistry but had been put on the register on the basis that, over 20 years, he had not killed too many people. I wonder whether we are heading back to a similar situation.
Something has been made of golden hellos, but I am cautious about their effect. For a new graduate, the golden hello is likely to be substantially smaller than their debts. The introduction of the graduate tax—or the abolition of tuition fees, as the Liberals would prefer me to say—is a strong incentive for graduates to consider posts outwith the United Kingdom.
Nora Radcliffe: Will the member take an intervention?
Stewart Stevenson: No—there is not enough time in three minutes.
We must try a great deal harder and consider substantially bigger golden hellos.
We have discussed the number of patients per dentist, but things are worse than what some numbers suggest. In Manchester, the figures are down to 1,200 patients per dentist. The basic problem is that there is a huge shortage of dentists throughout our islands. If a dentist has an opportunity of choosing where they will practise, will they practise in Aberdeenshire, where they will have to work four times as hard as they would in Manchester? They probably would not, unless they have an extremely strong attachment to Aberdeenshire.
Reference has been made to the difficulties of getting emergency dental treatment, which people are having to travel 100 miles to receive. Routine dental treatment is an equally big issue—people simply will not go for it.
I suggest that another problem is looming. David Davidson referred to what has happened in Banff. People are finding it impossible to sell on their practices, as no dentists are coming in to buy them. If that continues to be the case, people will not set up new practices. There is a downward spiral and a problem that will take many years to solve. There have been encouraging first steps, but we should not become complacent. I think that things will get worse before they get better, unless the minister can tell me otherwise.

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