You remember your speech at the Labour Party conference in September 1999 - when you promised “everybody will have easy access to an NHS dentist within the next two years”? The BBC headed it “NHS Dentistry for All” and there was rejoicing throughout the land, especially among pensioners.
I did have an NHS dentist at the time, whom I'd been with for many years. Then he retired, and overnight his practice went 100% private. At the same time, by an amazing coincidence, my teeth suddenly jumped from a six-monthly check and clean to an urgent programme of occlusions, extractions, root canal treatment and preventative orthodontry. Cleaning became "Dental Hygiene".
I couldn't understand how you would treble the number of dentists in just two years, so I thought I’d check your progress. Finding an NHS dentist at all was difficult, but we eventually found one. And they could see me - in two months’ time. Not exactly “easy access”, Tone.
Well, the two months were up yesterday. “Oh, yes, we can do this on the NHS. But you’ll get metal fillings and it will take at least eight weeks – or you can go private, give me £1,070 and I’ll do it whenever you like“.
“Thanks, I’ll think about it”.
“Sure, that’ll be £16.20”.
“But you haven’t done anything”.
Look, Tone, I don’t expect you to do anything about NHS dentistry. I realise you’re busy these days, what with the speeches; having to sort out your mess in Iraq - all those bereaved parents; bringing peace to Palestine, consulting to Corporate America; Emeritus Professoring; keeping the EU from finding out what happened at BAE, and acquiring new mansions, so I don’t expect you to do anything - any more than I expected it in '99. I just thought you'd like to be kept you up to date, and I can't do it tomorrow - I'll be at the dentist's.