Letters

I read your comment ('Not quite the whole tooth', page 21, 21 September) on the government's dental strategy with interest. It was a thoughtful and relevant contribution to the debate, if a little pessimistic.

It's not quite true that the British Dental Association are saying the strategy will not work. They appreciate the importance of health authorities making effective and imaginative use of the new tools we are providing.

They also accept the value of initiatives like the Dental Access Centre pilots where the traditional service is failing NHS patients.

They are no longer maintaining that we can't meet our commitment on access to NHS dentistry and we will continue to work with them towards the target which the prime minister set last year.

Where your commentary was spot on was in its recognition that HAs also have a crucial part to play. There are parts of the country where most telephone calls that HAs take are from people looking for dental treatment.

HAs have to be seen to match that level of concern with an equivalent and adequate response - sympathetic helplessness will no longer do.

The government will support HAs with the significant new resources and new partnerships that we announced in the strategy but I expect dentistry to loom much larger in HA thinking permanently, not just until the novelty of the strategy wears off.

Local problems have to be solved locally with or without earmarked central funds.

It is not just dentists whose performance will be measured. Improving access to dentistry is now firmly on the mainstream NHS agenda and the NHS Executive's performance management will reflect that. For example, the Modernisation Agency will embrace dentistry within its remit just as it will embrace primary care medical services.

I am about to invite every HA in England to a national conference where we can discuss the way forward for NHS dentistry with enthusiasm and optimism - and, for millions of patients across the country, not a moment too soon. I hope HAs will respond positively.

Philip Hunt Department of Health