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Dentists warn that new oral health policy will be judged on what it delivers, not what it promises

(03 Apr 2019)

The Irish Dental Association has warned the Government that its new oral health policy, ‘Smile agus Sláinte’ will be judged by what it delivers, not what it promises.

The President of the IDA, Kieran O’Connor said that while the Association welcomed the long overdue publication of the policy – it is 25 years since the last policy was published – and its greater focus on prevention, he pointed out that its members hadn’t been consulted in any meaningful way or involved in its formulation.

Dr. O’Connor said the Association would need to study the plan carefully to see how it compared with its vision for oral health services. He said nothing short of a complete reversal of Government policy would be required if the policy was to be rolled out successfully.

“Over the last decade the Government has slashed spending on oral health programmes, taking close to €1bn out of the system. The proposed reforms – which are linked to the cross-party Sláintecare programme - will necessitate huge investment and resources by the state, so it’s essential that sufficient, ringfenced funding is set aside for them.”

“The new policy will also provide the first real test for the Government of its commitment to Sláintecare. It’s all very well to promise free dental care to the under sixes and to say you are then going to extend it to all children under 16. Delivering on that promise is another matter entirely.”

Dr O’Connor said there would also need to be a sea-change in the relationship between the state and the dental profession.

“Oral health at Government level has long been regarded as the poor relation of general health and has generally been overlooked as a gateway to promoting general health. Although this is a pivotal year for oral health, the fact that the Minister and his Department failed to consult in any meaningful way with the IDA - and other stakeholders – on the new policy indicates that key lessons haven’t been learnt.”

“We will be insisting that dentists’ contracts are honoured where they exist and that the state meets its obligations to negotiate in good faith with the Association as the recognised trade union for all dentists on any proposed service reforms.”

The IDA’s annual conference begins in Galway tomorrow and the Association will be engaging with members at that and will also be organising briefings on the new policy for members in the coming weeks.

Last summer the IDA established a task force to set out what it saw as the priorities which should inform the new strategy. The IDA document, ‘Towards a Vision for Oral Health in Ireland’ is available on request.