10 March 2005

S2M-2549 Dentistry

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 10 March 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]


The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2549, in the name of Shona Robison, on dentistry.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Mike Rumbles for that interesting insight into the Executive's announcement of next week. Obviously, Magnus Gardham has dropped below the standards that I expect of him in reporting the Executive's plans. However, let us give the Executive credit for its ambition. If what Magnus Gardham says in today's Daily Record is correct, the Executive

"intends that the service will be open to everyone."

If that is not a recognition of the fact that that is not the current situation, I have never heard one. Of course, Magnus prefaces that statement with the word "eventually". In the same article, Rhona Brankin is quoted as saying:

"In Glasgow, more than 60 per cent of children have dental disease before they reach the age of three. So there is a huge job to be done."

Furthermore, Andy Kerr is quoted by Douglas Fraser, in The Herald, as saying that the problems with children's oral health and dental services throughout Scotland are "quite appalling". We cannot disagree with any of those statements: on the contrary, we agree whole-heartedly with them.

The Executive's record on the issue is quite interesting, and I will go through some of the statements that it has published on the subject. On 28 October 2004, in response to parliamentary question S20-3755, asking how many dentists we would have in 10 years' time, Rhona Brankin replied that the Executive did not know. Two years ago, in March 2003, in response to parliamentary question S1W-34277, asking how many dentists there would be, Mary Mulligan replied that the Executive did not know. In response to parliamentary question S20-4341, asking about the average waiting time for NHS dentistry, Rhona Brankin replied that the Executive did not know. So it continues.

Rhona Brankin: Does Mr Stevenson recognise that it is expected that, by 2006, more than 130 dentists will qualify each year?

Stewart Stevenson: If that is true—and I accept the minister's word for it—it is very welcome. However, let me point the minister at some other documents, such as the draft budget for 2005-06. It has nine objectives and targets for the health service, but not one on dentistry. It is not a one-off, though. If we go back a year and look at the budget for 2004-05, we find 14 objectives but not one on dentistry. It is not even confined to two years. If we go back another year, again we find not one objective on dentistry.

Rhona Brankin: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Just one moment.

If we look further, we will find in the current draft budget that one of the statements of priority is to

"improve dental services through incentives".

Nevertheless, the spending plans in the draft budget show that the money allocated to general dental services for 2004-05 and the following three years flat-lines at £225,176,000.

Does the minister still wish to intervene?

Rhona Brankin: Absolutely. I presume that the member welcomes our commitment to provide free dental checks for everyone by 2007.

Stewart Stevenson: Of course I do. However, how will the minister pay for those checks and who will carry them out? Given the record to date, there is not the slightest evidence that we will see any measure that will meaningfully address the matter.

The scope of the problem becomes apparent in a parliamentary answer that the minister gave me yesterday. It appears that Nora Radcliffe, Mike Rumbles and I share the unenviable record of having the lowest number of dentists in any parliamentary constituency. In fact, when I work out the numbers, it becomes clear that we have one dentist for more than 4,000 people. Ken Macintosh is a great deal more fortunate in his constituency—he has one dentist for every 1,700 people. If the extra money—which some suggested before the debate would amount to £10 million—were to be spent in our three north-east constituencies alone, we would still not reach the level of dental care that is available in Eastwood. I hope that, given what Mr Rumbles has—perhaps—announced about the north-east receiving more than that, things will move forward.

Indeed, the number of dentists in the north-east and the Highlands is so low that the resulting high work rate is making it extremely difficult to attract any more dentists. I believe that Mr Rumbles said that everyone should be able to enjoy access to NHS dentistry

"regardless of where they live".

However, we must do something about people in the north-east.

A golden hello scheme has been introduced to attract more people into NHS dentistry. However, in its first year, it was singularly ineffective and brought only six new dentists into the health service. Moreover, those dentists went to NHS Forth Valley, NHS Lothian, NHS Greater Glasgow and NHS Dumfries and Galloway; not a single one went to the areas of greatest need.

Yes, it will help to double the dental practice allowance, but we will wait with interest to see whether that makes a difference for local dentistry. As for the £10 million that has been given over the past year, the previous figures that I received on dentists in the three constituencies to which I referred were obviously optimistic, because there have been closures since they were released. In fact, in my constituency, some people cannot even get a private dentist, never mind an NHS dentist. It is clear that the minister will have to spend money and energy on this substantial problem. Furthermore, some real objectives must be set down in tablets of stone that the Executive can be held to account for in future.

Some of my constituents have had to travel to the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and even Hungary to receive dental treatment. Well, we are hungry for dentists, and we need them now.


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