05 September 2002

S1M-3309 NHS Dental Services (Moray)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): ... The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3309, in the name of Mrs Margaret Ewing, on NHS dental services in Moray.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that the provision of NHS dental services in Moray has reached crisis point; finds it unacceptable that residents of Moray now have to travel to Aberdeen to register with an NHS dentist, and believes that the Scottish Executive and Grampian NHS Board should increase their efforts to recruit and retain dentists to the area.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I say very well done to Margaret Ewing for securing a debate on this important topic. It is good to be able to add my welcome back to her. It is also good to see her introduce, so early on, a debate on a topic that members can get their teeth into. In Margaret Ewing's abscess our hearts have grown fonder, but meantime we have tried to put the best floss on it.

That is enough of the cheap jokes. Although perhaps, given that we are talking about the decline in dentistry in the NHS in the north-east, they are entirely appropriate. The trouble is that we are trying to get dental health on the cheap and that simply does not work.

In the NHS in Grampian as a whole, we have half the number of dentists per head of population that Edinburgh has and a quarter of the number that there are in Manchester and, Dr Ewing advises me, in Cuba. In rural Aberdeenshire and Moray, matters are considerably worse.

I pose a few questions. If members were dentists, would they wish to work in an area in which they would have to work four times as hard as dentists in Manchester? Would they wish to work in an area in which the backlog of dental decay is likely to be large? Would they wish to work in the NHS when they could earn more, get more time to do a quality job and get some time off by working in the private sector?

To be fair, I acknowledge that initiatives have been taken. Investment is being made in community dental facilities, but it has proved impossible in my constituency to get dentists to work in them. We have had the bounty to bring in new staff after they graduate. One dentist of whom I am aware managed to recruit someone to their first appointment after graduation, but they failed to qualify for the bounty because more than a year had passed since they had qualified. The dentist coughed up the money to ensure that they got the member of staff.

Advertising in Finland has been conducted. Finland has too many dentists and we have too few, but even so we are still unable to recruit dentists from there. We are on a downhill disaster curve and things can only get worse. There is an economic risk to life in the area that NHS Grampian covers. Senior people are coming into companies in the north-east and finding that they cannot get their promised dental care. That will damage the reputation of the north-east's quality of living.

As an MSP I am extremely fortunate that I can get NHS dental care in Lothian, but I cannot get it in my constituency. We support Nora Radcliffe's suggestion of conducting NHS training in the north-east. I suggest that we follow the Australian model of encouraging graduates to go to the areas of greatest need. One of the ways in which we might think about doing that is by allowing the Executive to pay off graduates' student loans. There is a gap in dental care in the north-east and we must address it as an absolute priority.


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