NHS 2007: Pull your own teeth out!

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EVERY day Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Health Secretary Alan Johnson churn out propaganda about ‘improving’ the National Health Service (NHS) and people’s health.

Yesterday, government officials were talking about an ‘obesity crisis’, while the reality is that the number of public health staff working in the NHS has fallen by more than half since Labour took office in 1997. These are people responsible for the general health of the population.

But the myth that the NHS provides treatment ‘free at the point of use’ and the real extent to which the NHS is being destroyed by the Labour government, following on from the policies of the Tories, is continually being exposed.

The latest scandalous situation confronting patients concerns dental care. People cannot get an NHS dentist in many areas, they confront huge NHS charges and some resort to pulling their own teeth out!

This was revealed by a Dentistry Watch survey of 5,200 patients and 750 dentists, carried out by the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health between July and September this year.

Dentistry Watch found that 78 per cent of those who had recourse to private dental treatment had done so because their dentist stopped treating NHS patients, or they could not find an NHS dentist.

Six per cent of dental patients had recourse to treat themselves. A respondent in Essex related that he had ‘filled own teeth – clove oil and Polyfilla’. Another in Harrow said: ‘Because I could not afford the treatment cost, I had to extract my own tooth on one occasion.’

In addition, almost 20 per cent of dental patients surveyed said they had gone without treatment because of the cost.

NHS charges are punitive. An examination, diagnosis and advice costs £15.90. The cost of an examination and filling is £43.60. An examination, plus crowns, dentures or bridges, costs at least £194. So much for the NHS being ‘free at the point of use’!

Commenting on the Dentistry Watch survey, Susie Sanderson of the British Dental Association (BDA) said: ‘The picture it paints, of patients unable to access care, dentists struggling with the target-driven system and anxieties over the new charging system, is an all-too familiar one.’

The survey found that 45 per cent of dentists are not accepting any more NHS patients and 73 per cent of them said they were aware that patients’ treatment was declining because of the prices they have to pay.

By cutting access to NHS dentistry and imposing charges that amount to as much as 90 per cent of the cost of private treatments, the government is forcing patients, either into neglecting their health, or making them pay huge sums to private companies that make profits out of people requiring treatment.

Anyone who has tried to get an eye test and treatment for sight problems on the NHS will have confronted a similar situation to that which prevails in NHS dentistry.

This is all part of Brown and Johnson’s ‘multi-provider’ NHS, which they are expanding into all areas of the Health Service.

Many NHS hospitals are owned by property speculators, who have built them under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal, lease them at a profit, employ staff and charge top prices for maintenance contracts.

Family GPs are being replaced by group practices owned and run by multinational healthcare companies. It will not be long before they demand payments for appointments with a doctor.

There are also plans for the privateers to set up ‘polyclinics’ so they can get their hands on NHS funds that, up to now, have been provided to GPs and local District General Hospitals.

On November 3, NHSTogether, an alliance of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) unions and organisations of health professionals, are holding an NHS anniversary march in London.

This must be made a rally in defence of the NHS, including dentistry and ophthalmology, against the Brown government’s privatisation of this essential service, upon which working-class families’ lives depend.

The whole trade union movement must be mobilised in a general strike action to bring down the Brown regime and to replace it with a workers government that will ensure that the NHS returns to being a publicly-funded, publicly-owned, free, universal NHS, providing all healthcare needs.