The Irish Dental Association (IDA) has said that the continued viability of dental treatment for medical card holders - under the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) - is under grave threat, warning that the lack of detail with regard to dentistry in the new Programme for Government and continued inaction by politicians will have huge consequences for Irish people in the months and years ahead.
The DTSS provides access to limited dental treatment for adult medical card holders.
The IDA also said it was extremely disappointing that the personal protective equipment (PPE) repeatedly promised by acting Minister for Health Simon Harris has not been received. This lack of PPE has led to reports suggesting that many dentists have had to impose levies on medical card patients in order to continue participating in the DTSS.
Responding to these reports, Mr. Fintan Hourihan, CEO of the IDA, said that this was hardly unexpected given the lack of support forthcoming from the State to the dental sector, and in particular during the recent reduction in services imposed due to Covid-19.
The Association believes members should individually consider courses of action that are open to them.
Mr. Hourihan said: “The Programme for Government does nothing to alleviate our concerns about oral health and dentistry in Ireland. It is disappointing that the incoming Government expects dentists to facilitate the expansion of free dental care through contracted arrangements with general dental practices to more children, when the Association has already informed the Minister for Health that the critical problems that our members (both public and general practice) are facing and the huge extra costs being incurred by general dental practices are making the existing DTSS contracted service completely unviable.
“How can dentists be reasonably expected to provide care in a scheme where the Government fails to meet its responsibilities to the contract and to patients during what is an unprecedented healthcare crisis?”
Mr. Hourihan said that the DTSS was a crucial scheme for people who most needed dental care. “Dentists want to be able to provide care for medical card patients, but the Government is leaving them with little choice but to minimise their involvement or withdraw.
“Despite repeated representations to the Minister for Health on the scale of the challenge facing dentists in Ireland in light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the ramifications for the sector, sadly the response has been gravely disappointing.”
Mr. Hourihan said that medical card patients 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.
“Having promised the release of adequate PPE to dentists at a meeting on May 8th, the Department of Health has given no direction since, which is extremely disappointing for our members and devastating for patients waiting for care across the country. Equally, we have received no proposals with regard to emergency adjustments for the care provided to DTSS patients during the lockdown or regarding support for dental practices, the vast majority of which having suffered significant shortfalls since the emergence of Covid-19.”
Mr. Hourihan said this inaction would force individual dental practices to reconsider their participation in the DTSS, with many expected to withdraw. “Our members are dedicated to the safe provision of care to all patients, including those being funded through the DTSS. However, they are telling us that they cannot do so in a manner which imperils the viability of their practices and livelihoods. We believe the Department’s actions could cause many thousands of patients being directed to seek dental care directly from the HSE dental services,” said Mr. Hourihan.