New figures show that the Health Service Executive spent €11.5m less on dental care for medical card patients in 2011 than it had promised.
The Irish Dental Union described the underspend as an outrage and called on the Minister for Health to launch an immediate investigation.
The figures, which were produced internally by the HSE, show the Executive spent €51.5m on the scheme last year, €11.5m less than the €63m the Government had undertaken to spend on the scheme.
The Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Union, Fintan Hourihan said the decision to cut funding from the underfunded medical card scheme was totally unacceptable.
"To withhold spending after providing a totally inadequate budget over the last two years cannot be justified. Last year the number of medical card holders increased by 63,000 but instead of increasing spending the HSE decided to underspend by €11.5m. This means that the HSE spent €28m less on the scheme in 2011 than it did in 2010. To cut a scheme which is already on its knees is a scandal and the Minister for Health has to explain how this occurred" Hourihan said.
The figures emerged on the eve of a major dental seminar which takes place at Croke Park tomorrow (Saturday 21st Jan) and which will be attended by over 200 dentists.
It also came to light that only one in four people who are entitled to a free oral exam attended their dentist last year. According to the HSE data 1,304,675 medical card holders are entitled to a free oral exam every year, but only 325,000 people availed of this benefit last year.
The Irish Dental Union says the reason for the abysmal take up of the oral exam is due almost entirely to the HSE's failure to communicate to medical card holders what their entitlements are. Patients have clearly lost confidence in the HSE's dental scheme for medical card patients.
The HSE figures show that overall 450,000 less dental treatments were performed under the medical card scheme during 2011. These included:
- 10,000 less oral exams
- 161,000 less scale and polish ie cleaning
- 233,000 less fillings
- 22,000 less x rays
- 37,000 less gum treatments
The IDU believes the figures reflect what is happening on the ground and that the HSE's strategy amounts to nothing less than ignoring the dental healthcare time bomb which they have created.
"The HSE has consistently ignored our warnings about the effects of turning the medical card scheme into one which only provides emergency care. As a result the ongoing dental care of up to one million people is being ignored in a sea of confusion" Hourihan said.
But he warned that the dental issues of hundreds of thousands of people are not going to magically disappear. "Irish dentists know that these issues will return to haunt us in the next couple of years at a much higher cost in both human and financial terms. Because of this our members have no confidence or faith in the HSE to deal with this crisis. The Minister's investigation should only be a starting point. He needs to take control and take decisive action before it's too late" Hourihan concluded.