Blair admits he broke pledge on dentists

Tony Blair has finally admitted that Labour has failed in its key pledge to provide access for all to an NHS dentist.

The prime minister promised in 1999 that everyone would have an NHS dentist no matter where they lived within two years.

Eight years later, less than half of the adult population is registered - a lower figure than when Labour took office.

Yet Mr Blair has never conceded that he had broken its promise to the electorate.

However, he was directly challenged at prime minister's question time by Liberal Democrat MP Mark Cheadle, who asked when he expected the promise to be fulfilled.

He replied: "It is and has been a real problem. I entirely accept that. The majority of people are actually within their area able to access an NHS dentist if they want to, but that is not 100 per cent - I accept that."

Mr Blair personally promised in September 1999 to deal with the problem of disappearing dentists. He told the Labour conference "Everyone within two years will be able once again to see an NHS dentist, just by phoning NHS".

But the deadline passed without any improvement. In 2004, the extent of the crisis became apparent when more than 300 people in Scarborough famously queued from dawn to register with a newly opened Dutch dentist.

Last month a survey by Citizens Advice found that around two million people in England who would like access to NHS dentistry are unable to do so.

Two thirds of them simply go without treatment rather than going private if they cannot find an NHS dentist.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Labour are still in denial at the scale of the problem. It is not just that less than 100 per cent of people can access NHS dentistry. The reality is that in many places across the country, people can barely access an NHS dentist at all. In the last year since the new contract, things have got worse not better."


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