Dentists say any Revenue from 'Sugar Tax' should go to dental care

Dentists say any Revenue from 'Sugar Tax' should go to dental care

(09 Nov 2011)

The Irish Dental Association has called on the Government to ensure that all revenue raised from a proposed 'sugar tax' should go to financing the restoration of the two main dental schemes.

The IDA made the call as new figures showed a dramatic collapse in the number of routine treatments being provided under the medical card scheme.

A comparison between the figures from 2009 with the first eight months of this year shows that the number of fillings provided under the scheme has declined by 63%, the number of denture treatments has declined by 57% while the number of extractions has declined by 30%. Oral examinations have declined by almost a third. 

Funding for the scheme has been cut by 27%, effectively reducing it to a scheme which only provides limited emergency cover, while the number of medical card holders has increased by 20%.

Meanwhile expenditure on the PRSI scheme has been halved and although taxpayers are paying the same amount of PRSI the sole benefit of the scheme now is one annual examination.

The Chief Executive of the IDA, Fintan Hourihan said both schemes had served the country extremely well and had led to a huge improvement in the dental health of the nation.

"These schemes provided the foundations of a progressive dental health policy and they need to be restored and fully funded as a matter of urgency. The medical card scheme in particular is now restricted solely to emergency care, pain management and extractions. All along we have said an ounce of prevention costs less than a pound of cure and the public will suffer if we do not take action now" Hourihan said.

The IDA said it noted the introduction of a new 'sugar tax' is being considered by an expert group on obesity in the Department of Health and it believes any revenues raised should be devoted to funding the dental schemes.

"Dentists fully appreciate the economic realities facing the country but we believe that the best return for the taxpayer would be for the money raised from a tax on high sugar products to be spent on dental health. For example a cost benefit analysis carried out on the PRSI scheme found that for every €1 spent the net benefit to the state was almost €3" Hourihan said.

Hourihan said it was ironic that Ireland was continuing to cut its spending on dental health at the same time as the United States was singling out oral health for the first time as one of the leading health indicators of the US population.

In its pre-budget submission the IDA is also calling for the filling of all vacant posts in the HSE's Public Dental Service and Orthodontic Service in order to reduce waiting times for both screening and treatment for tens of thousands of children and special needs patients around the country.

"It takes years in many places for a child to be screened for eligibility for the service but even then the child faces another lengthy waiting list before treatment can commence. All vacant frontline positions need to be filled to ensure children and people with special needs receive the care and treatment they need. The post of Chief Dental Officer in the Department of Health has been vacant for almost a decade while there is no permanent clinical lead in charge of HSE dental services" Hourihan concluded.

The IDA also believes some of the €85m assigned to the National Treatment Purchase Fund this year should be diverted to shortening orthodontic waiting lists.

*Cost benefit analysis of DTBS scheme carried out by Dr Brenda Gannon, NUIG 2009