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Mr. Laws: I welcome the dental access centres, but my great concern is that they are not a replacement for the on-going dental care that people need. Does the Minister accept that it is unsatisfactory that my constituency has no dentist who will take new adult NHS patients? Would it be satisfactory if that were still the situation in a year's time?
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Government have little power to compel dentists to take part in NHS activities. This is a market. Dentists decide for themselves whether they want to be in the NHS or to undertake extensive private practice. The Government are trying to put in place incentives so that existing NHS dentists increase the proportion of their practice that is in the NHS. Other incentives are aimed at getting dentists to improve their premises and equipment, so that they stay in the NHS.
The Government are also undertaking longer-term work to do with fee structures and new ways of working. In that way, we hope to encourage some exciting and innovative new dentists to work in the NHS. We are working with health authorities and primary care groups to support the recruitment of dentists for mainstream services. We are helping with advertising costs, which are crucial in recruitment. We are also providing relocation expenses to dentists willing to move to new areas.
Most importantly, we are offering assistance with short-term accommodation. Taking on new premises is a very big step, so the Government are helping dentists to move on a short-term basis initially, with accommodation provided to which they do not have to commit in the long term. In that way, we hope that dentists will be enticed back into the NHS, and that they will want to remain because they enjoy the work. We are therefore trying to be as imaginative as possible in providing incentives to draw people back into the service.
The Government have asked dentists locally for recommendations about what else they would like us to do. We want to help, and we have asked dentists for their ideas about how we can draw them back into the NHS. The dental access centre in Yeovil has been able to recruit dentists: the fact that there are eight whole-time equivalent dentists in that centre shows that the task is not impossible. I hope that the same persistence will pay off elsewhere, and that the support mechanisms on offer to existing practices will help them to augment the work that they do.
We must accept that being a general dental practitioner became distinctly unattractive in the 1990s. The Government are now working nationally with the profession to change that and to make dentistry an integral element of NHS care. People's teeth and oral health are as important as any other aspect of health care. Drawing dentists back into the centre of the NHS is a top priority for the Government, and I would welcome ideas and suggestionsfrom the profession and elsewhereabout how we can create a vibrant NHS service. Such a service is needed by people in Somerset and in Yeovil, as it is by people right across the country.