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2.3 pm

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: I am grateful to the Minister, to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and to others for what they have said. There is obviously no difference of purpose or intention in the House. We all realise that something must be done to meet the gap between the need for organ transplants and the present supply. I am reassured to hear that the Government are addressing the problem with some urgency. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West that we need in the near future--whichever party is in power 12 months from now--to see some progress. Everyone has identified a long list of problems, and we must tackle them.

My only difference with the very helpful Minister lay in her conclusion. I should have liked the Bill to go to

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Committee. I accept that it might be subsumed by the wide-ranging review that the Government are undertaking, but I cannot see that any of the changes that I propose could do any harm or be undesirable. In some areas, the Minister concedes that my proposals would improve matters, such as on the question of co-habiting partners. Nothing that I have proposed would conflict, as far as I can see, with her intention to explore such areas in the review on the preservation of organs. Simply making it lawful to preserve organs would not get in the way of further constructive discussion.

I shall press for a Second Reading, therefore, although I appreciate that the chances of an adequate number of Members being present in the House of Commons at this time on a Friday are slight. Having got so close, I prefer to put the matter to the chance, to see whether anything has held an unaccustomed number of our colleagues here. I shall not press a Division in a spirit of total dissatisfaction with or hostility to what the Minister has said, but there is a slight difference of opinion about how we can best proceed.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 12, Noes 0.

Division No. 157
[2.3 pm


Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Golding, Mrs Llin
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackinlay, Andrew
Öpik, Lembit
Skinner, Dennis
Soley, Clive
Spicer, Sir Michael
Swayne, Desmond
Wilkinson, John

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins and
Mr. Kenneth Clarke.


Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Barry Gardiner and
Mr. John Heppell.

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Madam Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

16 Mar 2001 : Column 1354

16 Mar 2001 : Column 1355

Private Dental Practitioners Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

2.14 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I was No. 13 in last year's ballot, and I am No. 8 this year. I am slowly climbing the ladder; I hope that by next year I shall be nearer the top three.

I am grateful for the opportunity at least to talk briefly about the Bill. Its purpose is to ensure that private dentists are brought into line with other private health services within the remit of the National Care Standards Commission. One in four adults have private treatment, either by choice or because they cannot find a national health service dentist. Often patients are unclear whether their treatment is NHS or private, and many have a mixture of the two.

It is therefore right that patients who use private dentists should expect protection similar to that enjoyed by patients who use other private medical services. At present, private patients may not even have access to a complaints procedure. Surgeries do not have to comply with formal standards.

Those who want to complain about work done privately have no recourse to an independent complaints procedure or other forms of statutory redress. As a result, many people who want to complain about their private dental treatment have found that the only formal options are either to complain to the General Dental Council, which deals only with cases of professional misconduct, or to sue the surgery or dentist concerned.

I shall refer briefly to two examples. Jonathan Cowie felt a sharp pain in one of his teeth the afternoon after he had had a dental check-up. He contacted his private dentist, who said that his teeth were probably still sensitive after being cleaned by the hygienist and that he should rub dentine on his gums. However, the following morning he was in severe pain, so he went back to the dentist, who took an X-ray of the tooth and told him not to worry and that it would settle down. The pain continued, so he made another appointment. This time, the dentist said that there was a crack in his tooth, which he filled. Three days later the filling started to come out.

Still in pain, Jonathan visited another dentist for a second opinion. He was told that the tooth had split from top to bottom and that the filling had pushed it apart, further exposing the nerve and allowing the tooth to become infected. It was removed and, two days later, the pain went.

Mr. Cowie complained to his health authority about his dentist's repeated misdiagnosis, but was told that there was no statutory complaints procedure for private dental treatment. He contacted the General Dental Council, which said that the allegation could not be described as serious professional misconduct, so the matter was outside its remit. Jonathan is still disputing the matter with the GDC. He feels that it is not following the Dentists Act 1984, which provides that the GDC should

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Another case was that of Audrey Read, who last year was told by her dentist that she needed a bridge to replace a broken tooth, and that that had to be done privately at a cost of more than £500. The bridge was uncomfortable and looked horrible. A second bridge was fitted, but it was no better. She asked for her money back and the dentist refused.

As the work had not been done on the NHS, Audrey Read could not use the complaints system, even though the dentist also did NHS work. When the dentist would not agree to a refund, her only option was to sue. A dental negligence lawyer arranged for an independent dentist to inspect the work. He found that the tooth had not been properly pulled out and that 90 per cent. of the root was still present. Even if it had been properly extracted, the permanent bridge should not have been fitted for at least three months, to allow the gum to shrink. Finally--this happens in most cases but there are some where it does not--the dentist settled out of court and she received £6,500.

It is important that in the present climate patients should be reassured that the highest standards of care will apply to all areas of health care. The Bill would give greater legitimacy to the thousands of excellent private dentists who perform to high standards.

The Consumers Association brought the issue to my attention. For several years, it has campaigned for higher standards of private and NHS health care. The House may know that I have long campaigned for better regulation of all private health care services, including cosmetic surgery; it took me seven years before the new system was introduced. More people are using private dental services, not necessarily by choice, but I shall not go into that now. Dentistry is one area of private health care that must not be permitted to continue to operate without proper safeguards for patients.

The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), has told me that private dentistry has not been brought under the National Care Standards Commission from the outset because the General Dental Council is committed to introducing a scheme for the investigation and resolution of complaints about private dentistry. Frankly, I am unhappy about that because, as we have seen with doctors, professional self-regulation alone is not sufficient.

There is still a pressing requirement to pull private dentists under the provisions of the Care Standards Act 2000, to ensure that complaints procedures are in place and that private dentists work to certain standards and provide good quality and safe care. Patients are just as vulnerable in the dentist's chair as they are at their GP's surgery. It is widely accepted that there is a need to regulate private GP practices, so why not dentists, especially as more people have private dental care than private GP care?

I should like to say more, but I would like to hear what other Members have to say. I am grateful for the support of Members on both sides of the House for the Bill, which is an important step in safeguarding the interests of patients who use private dentists. I appreciate that parliamentary time may not be available this side of the general election, but I should like the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), to commit the next

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Labour Government to implementing measures similar to those in my Bill. That would protect patients, whether they are in a GP's surgery or a private dentist's chair.

2.22 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has clearly identified a problem for which a remedy is required. We understand why she has introduced the Bill and why it has the support of the Consumers Association. It is unacceptable that the only remedy open to private dental patients--and most adults, of necessity, have to become private dental patients--is recourse to law or, if there is a case of professional misconduct, the General Dental Council.

We therefore accept that a remedy is required. We support the creation of a formal complaints procedure for private patients. Indeed, the Health Act 1999 gives the Government the power to create one. The British Dental Association believes that that should be a Government priority, but we are still waiting for action on that front. I quite understand the frustration that led the hon. Member for Cynon Valley to introduce her Bill. Last September, the Government published "Modernising NHS Dentistry--Implementing the NHS Plan", which deals with quality issues. I should have thought that that provided an opportunity to widen the scope and address the issues facing private dental patients, given that so many of them--and increasingly so--are also NHS dental patients. We are interested to learn the Government's response to the Bill.

The National Care Standards Commission has the remit of regulating private dental treatment under general anaesthesia, but dental treatment of the sort described by the hon. Lady was specifically excluded. The Government are currently reviewing the NHS complaints system. Many of us who function as ordinary Members of Parliament with casework would say that that is long overdue.

Our approach to the Care Standards Act 2000, which would be amended by the Bill, was summed up in Standing Committee G by my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond):

It follows from that that it would be preferable to have one set of regulatory and inspection criteria and a complaints procedure covering all provision of health care. Our difficulty with the Bill is that it perpetuates the system of two separate forms of inspection and regulation and complaints procedures for patients who move seamlessly between the NHS and the private sector, particularly in respect of dentistry.

The Bill will give rise to a practical problem, because the dentists who are to be regulated and inspected, and about whom complaints are to be investigated, carry out both NHS work and work in the private sector. They

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would consequently end up being subject to two different regimes. We are interested to hear the Minister's comments on the Bill.

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