Alistair Burt’s speech represents a new strategic approach to tackle oral health issues, Michael Watson says.
When I arrived in Manchester, I sought opinions about what might be in the minister’s speech the next day.
The consensus of opinion was that I might as well have stayed at home and looked at what I wrote last year.
However, the following day Alistair Burt MP proved the cynics wrong in a speech that was sympathetic to the concerns of his audience, as well as the headline grabbing soundbite that the number of child extractions was ‘a national scandal’.
Cabinet ministers are worried about how to stay in the prime minister’s good books, parliamentary secretaries too inexperienced and too low down the pecking order.
But Mr Burt was a minister back in the days of John Major and knows what is expected of him, even if this is his first stint in a health department.
He had done his homework, including speaking to MPs such as dentist, Sir Paul Beresford.
He appeared very aware of the concerns and low morale within the profession, over the UDA contract and the General Dental Council (GDC), as well as the fact that many dentists feel undervalued.
He went out of his way to say that day by day dental teams were delivering preventive care in their practices and were also largely responsible for recently reported improvements in the oral health of five-year-olds.
But they were not getting credit for this and he wanted to say thank you to dentists, something I don’t ever recall a minister saying.
He was born in nearby Eccles and was MP for Bury North for 14 years until 1997, before moving south to Bedfordshire in 2001.
He drew on his knowledge of his constituents and the ‘sugar awareness’ of his family.
Did he have much to offer?
No, not a lot.
He had agreed with NHS England an initiative to examine the feasibility of it tying schemes such as Childsmile into commissioning, and it would report back in October, but no money was on offer for this.
He appeared confident of a positive outcome for the prototype pilots and said the intention was still to roll out a new contract nationally in 2018-19.
He said he understood the profession’s lack of confidence in the GDC (to put it mildly).
But he asked dentists to see how the new management team got on, under chief executive, Ian Brack, but added that this was their last chance to mend their ways.
My own take on the speech was that, although he had little to say about the nuts and bolts of practice life, it represented a new strategic approach, for a service cantered on prevention, to tackle the serious oral health problems of patients.
And, as he said when answering a question, the chief dental officer, Sara Hurley, would make sure he did not deviate from this path.