‘Fundamentally new approach’ crucial for medical card patients

‘Fundamentally new approach’ crucial for medical card patients

(08 Apr 2021)

The Irish Dental Association (IDA) will today call on the Government to adopt a “fundamentally new approach” to address the dental needs of lower income groups in Ireland, warning that the current failed model as exemplified by the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) is no longer viable.
The IDA will today (Thursday) address the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health on the DTSS, which provides access to limited dental treatment for adult medical card holders (see editors’ note below).
It will say that the scheme has caused significant “anger and disillusionment” among dentists, and has led to a “lifetime of embarrassment, decreased nutrition and loss of wellbeing” for patients across Ireland who cannot access the dental care they need.
Total spending on the DTSS has fallen from over €63 million in 2017 to €40 million in 2020 (a 36% drop), as confirmed in data published by the HSE.
Furthermore, the number of DTSS contracts held by dentists nationwide has fallen by 31% between 2015 and 2020, from 1,847 to below 1,200 at present.
Because of the drop-off in funding and dentists’ participation, the IDA says medical card patients are now faced with:

Delays while seeking treatment;
Increased travel times while seeking that treatment; and
Possible reliance on the already underfunded public dental service to provide care in areas where DTSS contracts are not in place.

Speaking today, Fintan Hourihan, Chief Executive of the IDA, said that change was desperately needed for the good of patients. “The medical card scheme is on the brink of collapse, affecting 1.5 million eligible patients who have seen a significant erosion in their ability to access dental care over the past decade.
“The pandemic has highlighted the complete inadequacies of this scheme, with an unprecedented number of dentists withdrawing because they cannot afford to participate. In 2020, almost one quarter of participating dentists nationwide left this scheme which highlights its failings. It is clear that the Government can no longer stand over a scheme which is neither good for patients nor dentists in any respect.”
The IDA believes that new models of access need to be examined including a combination of some or all of the following approaches:

Application of a co-payment system similar to that used with the PRSI dental scheme (the Dental Treatment Benefit Scheme) for medical card patients;
Use of ‘use it or lose it’ vouchers funded by the state to encourage greater attendance of patients for dental examinations and possibly other preventative treatments by agreement with dentists;
Expansion of the Med 2 tax relief scheme to include routine dental treatments

The IDA is the representative body for 2,000 dentists (public and private) practising in Ireland.
Editors’ note
The IDA delegation meeting with the Oireachtas Committee on Health today comprises:

Dr Anne O’Neill, President of the IDA;
Dr Clodagh McAllister, President-Elect of the IDA;
Dr Caroline Robins, Chair of the GP Committee of the IDA; and
Mr Fintan Hourihan, Chief Executive of the IDA

Issued on behalf of the Irish Dental Association by Gordon MRM
Contact: Julian Fleming