Labour delivered kick in the teeth

I LOOKED up into the dentist's face and the bright light refracted through his glasses. He was about to place some instrument in my open mouth when I made the last appeal of the coward.

I LOOKED up into the dentist's face and the bright light refracted through his glasses. He was about to place some instrument in my open mouth when I made the last appeal of the coward. "Are you quite sure this is absolutely necessary?" I mumbled.

To my surprise and relief he stopped, straightened up and admitted: "I suppose it might not be. We could leave it for a few days and see how you go."

That was 22 years ago this weekend, and the tooth he had been about to remove - one of my front ones - is still there, still whole and still functional.

By the skin of my teeth, as it were, I had avoided a painful root-canal operation (I don't really know what that is, and I don't think I want to.)

I was reminded of this close shave this week when I got some startling news about the dentist I have been going to for the last few years. Apparently, he is about to go private. He will no longer see NHS patients.

Now, I object both in principle and in practice to private health care. For one thing, I've already paid for my health provision, through decades of National Insurance contributions. Private medicine undermines and cheats the system.

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It also encourages people like dentists to invent work that doesn't need doing. Would my left-front incisor still be there if that dentist in 1983 had looked in my mouth and seen a fat fee waiting to be plucked?

So I won't be going to the Wickham Market surgery any more, much as I liked Mr Purkis's non-interventionist approach.

That meant a quick hunt for another dentist - and I soon made a shocking discovery. There is no longer a single one in Suffolk Coastal district taking on new adult NHS patients. Not one.

There are dentists in Aldeburgh, Saxmundham and Martlesham who are prepared to take on children for NHS treatment, but not grown-ups.

In Central Suffolk , one dentist - in Hadleigh - will take on children, but again no adults.

Only in Ipswich did I manage to find a surgery that would take me and my family on to its list - but even there, only three out of 31 practices are registering NHS charge-paying adults.

William Beveridge, whose report led to the formation of the National Health Service in 1948, would be appalled.

That such a mockery of his vision should have been allowed to come about under a so-called Labour government is the most shocking thing of all.

Along with education and housing, the NHS should be at the absolute core of what Labour is all about. It used to be.

New Labour's vision of education is perverse: Let's lower the bar so we can pretend everyone can go to university - and then make them pay for doing so. This is the exact opposite of the opportunity for all that was once the party's honourable aim.

Both there and in housing policy, Labour has followed Tory leads. I saw the word "socialist" used the other day in a description of the present government. That gave me a sick laugh.

I also heard an old Labour activist insisting the party would get back on the right lines if it got rid of Tony Blair - and that that's just what would happen after the election. Wishful thinking, I'm afraid.

Of course, the electors of Sedgefield could deliver us a dream ticket by kicking out Blair, while the rest of the country returns a Labour majority. But that won't happen either.

Policy by policy - on education, health and housing, as well as tax, transport and immigration - the party with the fairest, most decent approach are the Lib Dems.

They alone plan to roll back the anti-social policies of past Tory regimes, rather than extending them, as Labour has done.

That is why I have decided to vote Liberal Democrat next Thursday. If all the decent people decide decency can't win, and so vote for something else, decency will have no future.

Whether Charles Kennedy would get an NHS dentist in every town, I don't know. But it's clear that neither Blair nor Michael Howard will.

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