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Caithness News Bulletins May 2003

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Dramatic improvements to NHS dental services must be delivered for people in the Far North.  This is the message that MSP Jamie Stone delivered to the Scottish Executive on the day it unveiled its new legislative programme for the second parliamentary term.

Mr Stone took the first opportunity available to press First Minister Jack McConnell for action to address the serious shortage of NHS dentists in the Highlands.  In a question and answer session after the Executive unveiled its programme for the year ahead, Mr Stone quizzed the First Minister on what proposals the new Scottish government has to tackle the problem.

Mr Stone also wasted no time in bringing new Deputy Health Minister Tom McCabe up to speed on the issue.  A members' debate on dental services later in the day allowed Mr Stone to outline the scale of the problem his constituents face.

Commenting after, Mr Stone said:
"The problem is absolutely huge.  The NHS dental service in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is in a state of near crisis.  In the far north there have been anecdotes about people removing their own teeth with pliers. I don't know whether such stories are true but without urgent action, we can be certain that the current problem will only grow.

"People across Scotland, myself included, welcomed the new Executive's commitment to introducing free dental checks.  However, it's clear to everyone in the far north that unless local dental problems are addressed, they simply will not benefit from this major new policy.

"The poorest in our society will lose out because people with the least income will be more inclined to cut out the option of going private.  This means that they and their families will suffer.  Lateral thinking and imaginative solutions are the way forward.  We simply cannot afford to underestimate the gravity of this issue.

"The Conservative government shut down the Edinburgh dental school - which is one of the main reasons why we now have 500 less dentists in Scotland.  This has clearly had a major impact for dental services in the north.  "The new dental training centre in Aberdeen will help, in the longer term, to encourage more new dentists to areas outwith the central belt.  The new Deputy Health Minister has admitted that there are significant problems with access to dental services and pledged action to help deliver improvements.

"I want to see positive progress being made for local people and will be pursuing this issue relentlessly, both in the Scottish Parliament and with the Executive."