Health minister is accused of `hiding' crisis

Ministers were last night accused of trying to hide the scale of the dental crisis gripping the North by banning people from queuing to register with an NHS dentist.

Ministers were last night accused of trying to hide the scale of the dental crisis gripping the North by banning people from queuing to register with an NHS dentist.

Long queues of people waiting hours to register has become such a regular occurrence in many parts of the region that health minister Rosie Winterton wants patients to register by phone or by appointment.

Ms Winterton said the advice was "just common sense" but was immediately accused of attempting to hide the severity of the situation - a problem compared to the "dole queues of 1930s Jarrow", according to one MP.

The Department of Health has written to local primary care trusts urging them to make sure future registrations take place by phone or the appointments system.

"It is not right to have people with children or the elderly queuing up for hours when they could do it from the comfort of their own home. This advice is just common sense," Ms Winterton told The Journal.

But North MPs have attacked the move as a blatant attempt to `hide' the embarrassing scale of the crisis in NHS dentistry.

Berwick MP Alan Beith said: "People are so desperate now to register with an NHS dentist because there are so few of them left that they want to make absolutely sure they are at the front of the queue.

"It's desperation that is driving this."

Queuing from the "comfort" of your own home was a solution, he conceded, but added: "People shouldn't be forced to queue in the first place, it just illustrates how bad this whole situation is."

Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said the queues were reminiscent of the "dole queues of Jarrow in the 1930s" with dentists pulling "wholesale" out of the NHS.

He said: "Common sense is ensuring that you don't have to queue for hours just to register. Common sense should end this situation, not just issue edicts telling people how they can or cannot register. This has become a joke."

In 1999, Tony Blair promised that within two years everyone would be able to see an NHS dentist. But the British Dental Association, which is due to meet with Ms Winterton next week, said the contract would be a "shambles for both patients and the profession."

"The Government claims to be committed to preventive care yet that does not seem to apply to dentistry.

"We're now faced with a contract that puts dentists on a new treadmill and means they can't give the care and time that they want to give to patients. This is bad for patients, bad for dentists and disastrous for NHS dentistry," said Lester Ellman, chairman of the general dental practice committee.

A spokeswoman for PCTs in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland said they had not received Ms Winterton's letter yet however they would "consider the effect on our residents once we do".

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