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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): Implementing the Dentists Act 1984 (Amendment) Order is the responsibility of the General Dental Council, which is establishing a new complaints procedure for private dentistry, relaxing restrictions on the number of companies that may provide dentistry, extending registration to dental care professionals and making indemnity cover mandatory for all dentists.
Mr. Kidney: The order gives important new powers to the General Dental Council, which is, as my hon. Friend says, the regulator for dentistry in the public and private sectors alike. Can she assure me that the regulator will be given sufficient time to grow into that expanded role without the distraction of any further structural change that might be proposed for some other health regulators?
Ms Winterton: As my hon. Friend knows, reviews of some of the regulatory bodies are going on, but I can assure him that I am confident that the General Dental Council is making good progress in implementing that important order, especially through some of the measures that it is taking to ensure that there is proper regulation and a proper complaints procedure for private dentistry.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
(Con): Will the Minister give the House an assurance that for any medical negligence by a private dentistry practitioner, cover will be exactly the same as under the NHS? I understand that that is not the case in private health cover generally.
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Ms Winterton: Certainly, the indemnity cover is a big move forward, as previously it did not exist in the dental profession. It will now be the case that prior to registration a dentist will have to prove that they have indemnity cover for all the work they do.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I note my hon. Friend's comments about the timing of the order and the progress that is being made. She will be aware of the importance of the regulator in determining standards for dental schools. May I assure her that if the dental school bid in Plymouth is successful, it will meet the highest standards and keep the regulator very happy?
Ms Winterton: That was very ingenious. I congratulate my hon. Friend on once again putting the case for a dental school in her constituency. As she knows, those matters are under consideration and we shall make an announcement in the new year.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Caroline Flint): There are 25 per cent. more nurses than there were in 1997, vacancy rates have fallen to 1.9 per cent. and numbers of students entering training each year have increased by more than 10,000.
Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. Will she clarify the number of new nurses in north Staffordshire and the job opportunities for newly qualified nurses in north Staffordshire?
Caroline Flint: The number of nurses in Shropshire and north Staffordshire as a whole is 10,575, an increase of 1,960 since 1997. I realise that there has been a freeze in my hon. Friend's area, but I understand that 56 nurses were given six-month contracts in September.
I am pleased to be dealing with a situation where we have created so many opportunities to train new nurses, compared with the position before 1997 when there were not enough nurses to do the jobs available. Of course, we have to look into the situation for nurses seeking employment and we must work throughout the NHS in England to make opportunities available, but it is nice to be standing at the Dispatch Box talking about jobs filled, with nurses available, rather than to be talking about unfilled jobs and no nurses available.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I have to say that that is the most astonishing reply I have ever heard in the House. Two weeks ago, 280 people, including nurses, were told that they would lose their jobs at the Princess Royal hospital in my constituency. I am afraid that the Minister has been reading too much C. S. Lewis; she is clearly in the land of Narnia.
The situation in terms of jobs in hospitals, primary care trusts and the community is something for local commissioners and others, working
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together, to decide. The fact remainswhich the hon. Gentleman cannot disputethat more nurses, doctors and clinical practitioners are working in the NHS today than between 1979 and 1997.
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of figures published in The Guardian this morning, which remind us of the problem for developing countries of the drain of their trained nurses to the United Kingdom. I am aware of the NHS code of conduct for the recruitment of nurses; but none the less there is still evasion. They are still coming in through the back door, depleting developing countries with consequent effects on their medical services. Does my hon. Friend have plans for further steps to tighten up the system?
Caroline Flint: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. I read the article this morning. The reality is that, as the code says, we do not employ nurses from those countries in the developing world. If agencies are employing them, they are not meant to work in the NHS. Of course, we will look at this situation, but I am pleased to say that figures show that the number of nurses trained outside the UK and working in the NHS is falling. We should also remember, however, the joint work that we can do with countries in Africa to help them to support their own health services not only by giving work experience here where appropriate, but by sending teams out to those countries, with support from Departments such as the Department for International Development, to help them to build their own services in their countries, too.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Caroline Flint): This is the responsibility of the Cumbria and Lancashire strategic health authority, which is responsible for working with primary care trusts and NHS trusts to ensure that appropriate services are provided for patients in their localities, in line with the strategic aims of the Department of Health.
Mr. Evans: That is all very well, but the Minister will have heard what the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) had to say about mergers and the facilities that will be lost in the Lancashire region if there is a merger and, indeed, a closure of accident and emergency services in our area. Does she appreciate the fact that many people who live in rural areas, such as Ribble Valley and Pendle, must travel much further to receive those services? In fact, Queen's Park hospital, where the move is expected to take place, is already trying to tackling a multi-million pound debt. Can she assure us that, in the consultation that is taking place, the people of Lancashire will be listened to?
Yes, the people of Lancashire will be listened to, but I would reassure the hon. Gentleman that the aims of the present discussion are to consider
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the provision of integrated clinical services, as a result of the new private finance initiative hospital being built in Blackburn. Of course, that will lead to the Blackburn royal infirmary, which it replaces, closing next year, but let us look across the piece at how services can be provided at Burnley as well. There will be a full consultation. I understand that the chief executive of the trust has met MPs and that there have been meetings with staff as well. Already, before we even go into the formal consultation period, leaflets and information are
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being provided to members of the community and patients too. So I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there will be a full, transparent consultation on the issue, but the main driver involves the integration of clinical services, as a result of the investment of £110 million in the new PFI hospital. Of course, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), £30 million has been provided for new medical accommodation and a new renal unit at Burnley, which we would all say is very welcome.
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