Members of the Territorial Army should be guaranteed free access to army dentists, an MP has said.
Lindsay Hoyle, Labour MP for Chorley, said it was ‘odd’ that while reservists could be prevented from entering the battlefield if their oral health was not in good order, they did not, by right, enjoy the same access to army dentists as regular troops.
Currently only TA members on full-time reserve contracts and those on duty can take advantage of free dentistry in army barracks. When they are not mobilised, and are living and working as civilians, they are expected to look after their teeth without support.
Mr Hoyle pointed out that since the army would be expected to treat any reservists with serious oral health problems when they were called up, it made sense to prevent those health problems getting to that stage by treating them on a regular basis.
A Parliamentary early day motion, tabled by Mr Hoyle, recognises ‘the invaluable role that Territorial Army troops play in providing frontline support to the regular army being deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as many other theatres in previous years’.
It calls on the Government to ‘extend the provision of free dental treatment to members of the TA as a means of support and recognition of the valuable service they provide’.
The motion, backed by 44 MPs, also suggests there is spare capacity within army dental services that could accommodate Territorial Army troops.
Mr Hoyle pointed out that such a move would also free up capacity in civilian primary dental practices. He said his campaign was backed by TA members and claimed a Government minister was ‘taking a closer look’ at the case for reform.
The MP said: ‘If you are a regular, you can access an army dentist at any time, and TA members should be able to access them, too, not just when they are going into theatre. Army dentists are not stretched at all, there is a lot of slack within the system, so we should use up this capacity.’
He added: ‘I am putting pressure on the Government to see what we can get from the Ministry of Defence.’
The MoD said it was currently awaiting the findings of its Reserves Review and expected to report in the next few months, which was looking at the role of reservists ‘across the board’.
An MoD spokesman said: ‘They are looking at the terms and conditions of reservists and (the provision of free dental care) would be a part of that.’
Last summer, the MoD published proposals to offer families of full-time military personnel ‘special treatment’ to ensure access to an NHS dentist. The move followed complaints from defence top brass that the military covenant – an agreement to treat personnel fairly in return for the sacrifices they are expected to make for their country – was being undermined by lack of access to basic services.