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My hon. Friend raised a couple of other issues. First, he asked about an annual adult and child check for tooth decay and other oral health issues. He will know that there used to be a system of annual checks of children's teeth, which was done by the school dentist. It cost some £17 million, but an independent review found that it did not have any effect on improving oral health in deprived areas. What happened was that children would be looked at by the school dentist and be told that they had some decay, but they would not be taken to the dentist. That is a problem, because it is in deprived areas in particular that we need to ensure that we improve oral health. The question is what is the best way to spend that £17 million. The view is that a better approach is to target areas of significant deprivation
and ensure that effective resources are put into a real programme to teach children and adults about the importance of dental health.
The British Dental Association has considered whether we should have children's dentists, and it takes the view that that is not the best way to spend such resources. We have acted on independent advice, but I hear what my hon. Friend says and, in principle, the idea that both adults and children should have an annual check for decay or any other problems is a good one. I shall discuss it with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, who has responsibility for dental service issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North also talked about the 2006 contract and how it has developed. Professor Steele's review of that contract is important and bears close examination. Issues did arise with the contract. It was not piloted, and we have lessons to learn from that. Indeed, in looking at Professor Steele's review we have decided that we do need to pilot his proposals so that we have a process for the introduction of changes to the contract that is broadly acceptable to dentists, the Government and the taxpayer. That process will also ensure that we do not create an over-complex
contract by which we reward dental practices in a vast variety of ways. One of the problems with the old contract was its complexity, so we have tried to simplify it. We now need to examine the results of the independent review carried out by the team led by Jimmy Steele, and to ensure that the proposals in the document are considered carefully and properly piloted. If the pilots show that they are the best way of making changes, we should implement them as soon as possible.
Nottingham City PCT and East Midlands SHA are committed to ensuring improved oral health for the residents of Nottingham and to improving NHS dental services in the area. The increasing number of dentists demonstrates a real commitment. I applaud my hon. Friend's presence today, despite his operation just a couple of days ago. It demonstrates his level of commitment to, and determination to serve, his constituents. His contribution today might have been painful for him, but I hope that it will at least prove worth while in raising the concerns of parents and children in Nottingham about the future of children's oral health.