|Draft Dental Auxiliaries (Amendment) Regulations 2002
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): It appears to be traditional to start with a dental comment, but I will desist, except to say that I brushed my teeth several times before coming to the Committee, and spoiled it all by having a mint on the way.
Column Number: 007I share the views of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who speaks for the Conservatives, and welcome the orders. I shall not detain the Committee other than to ask a couple of questions.
Can the Minister say what representation dental therapists and hygienists will have on the General Dental Council, given that they will now be fully regulated? When the section 60 changes, to which we look forward, have been made, other professionals complementary to dentistry will also be registered. With the greater range of duties, and therefore greater liability for self-regulation, it is important that dental auxiliaries are adequately represented on the General Dental Council. I imagine that that is not straightforward, because dentists would have to give up some of their places.
I have often said in discussing section 60 orders how useful they have been. However, why is there such a long wait for the first fruits of section 60 in modernisation—as the Minister calls it—of the dental profession? Is there a shortage of people in her Department to write what appear—to someone who has dealt with a couple of them—to be relatively straightforward orders? Are they incredibly complex, or are representatives of the General Dental Council being slow? They tell me that they have been working with the Department on the orders that the Minister promises by the end of the year—presumably since section 60 came into force many months ago.
I add my wish to that expressed for the Minister to clarify the position of those working in the private sector, as the terminology is complicated. The explanatory memorandum states that the measures will help to make private practices more cost efficient. They remove the restriction on dental therapists' ability to carry out work other than for the national health service, so one assumes that they apply only to people working in private practice. The answer may be that people working in general dental services are effectively private employees of the dental practice for which they work.
Will the Minister clarify the protection of title for professionals complementary to dentistry? The fear remains that anyone will be able to set up as a dental hygienist or therapist. I would be concerned about patient safety if there were no full protection of title and restriction on people setting up without registration. Will the Minister clarify whether such protection already exists or would require further section 60 legislation?
Ms Blears: Both hon. Gentlemen asked about the disapplication of the restriction. At the moment, dental therapists are limited to working in hospital and community dental service settings. That restriction originally came about in the 1950s, when there was less commitment to team working and many practitioners were single-handed and did not feel able to offer adequate supervision in ordinary practice premises.
Column Number: 008At that time, therapists were a new breed. There was a wish to see how the job developed, and to ensure that they were closely supervised while they began to exercise their skills. They were not dentists, but something entirely different. The purpose of the order is to disapply the restriction, to enable therapists to work across the whole profession. As hon. Members will know, dentists are independent contractors. They often take both NHS and private work—practices often have a complex mix of work. Therapists will be able to work in all of the activities in any practice, which is an important step forward.
Those in professions complementary to dentistry—as auxiliaries prefer to be known—currently have only one place on the GDC. As a result of the section 60 changes introduced by the previous order, the GDC is dramatically changing its composition by increasing its number of lay people. In future, four complementary-to-dentistry practitioners will be on the GDC, so their representation will increase. I am delighted about that, because it is another symbol of team working and of dentists valuing the skills of their colleagues, rather than of the operation of a two-tier system. It is all about improving their profession together.
On whether there is protection of title, I explained that therapists and hygienists must be enrolled and registered with the GDC. The purpose of the next section 60 order is to extend that provision to technicians and nurses. We want everybody to be properly registered and enrolled, so that members of the public enjoy a degree of security in the knowledge that staff are competent, professional, well trained and have the necessary back-up for patient safety.
On the process of bringing forward section 60 orders, this one was not complex in its drafting, but there were implications for the work force. There was a fear that disapplying the restriction would suddenly lead to a massive demand for more therapists in general dental practices. There are currently only 500 trained therapists, with a further 75 undergoing training. There was a worry that we would not have enough to staff the community dental service and hospital dental services. A work force survey was carried out, and we are now satisfied that, working with the therapists, we can expand their numbers considerably and will not suffer those stresses and strains. So, there was a practical reason, as well as drafting considerations. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) will know that sometimes a push is needed in finding parliamentary time and completing drafting.
Mr. Burns: Actually, he will not know that.
Ms Blears: No, he will not. I have spoken to the whole profession and know that it is extremely keen to proceed with the programme.
I am delighted that dentistry is looking to the future and is ready to make some fundamental changes, drawing dentistry back into the national health service, which—unfortunately—dentists left in droves in the early 1990s. We are really working on that agenda, and I am delighted to be able to do so.
Column Number: 009Question put and agreed to.
(Dental Auxiliaries) Order 2002
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 8 May 2002|