Speaking today in response to the Budget announcement that free dental care for under-6s will be introduced from September 2020, Fintan Hourihan, Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), said:
“Dentists have serious concerns about the viability of the proposed changes as regards provision of dental care for children. Moving from a risk-based, targeted public dental service model to a system where children are seen if they attend in private dental practices is very problematic.”
The Association believes the approach being advocated in the new National Oral Health Policy is misguided and will not realise better oral health outcomes for children. As such, we are calling for the Minister for Health to reaffirm the commitment he made to the IDA recently to examine alternative models to those which he has proposed today.
“Our members welcome the belated commitment by the state to help families achieve better dental health for children – however, today’s proposals raise the expectations of parents without having any detailed implementation plan or structure in place within a system which has been depleted by inadequate resources over many years.
“The Department’s proposals sacrifice continuity of care and a system which provides a safety net for children on the presumption that open access will result in better oral health. Evidence shows that the children who are most in need of support (those with additional needs or in families with reduced socio-economic circumstances) are those who will not access care and will have difficulty navigating the proposed system.”
Mr Hourihan noted that currently only one third of adults in Ireland avail of free dental examinations.
“General dental practitioners are very wary of taking on care for children as is being proposed or indeed taking on more state-funded work,” he said. Providing structured care for under-6s will require additional resources for areas where there are insufficient general dentists available, and additional access to advanced care services which have not yet been defined or resourced.
The Association believes that other models to improve care for children should be examined, including rebuilding the existing HSE school dental service which has seen dentist numbers fall by 20% as the number of eligible children rose by 20% over the past decade.
“The IDA has consistently called for an adequately funded public dental service. However, we are concerned that the current erosion of the HSE public dental service is being accelerated following the publication of the new policy. This will leave children with the worst of both worlds in terms of access to dental care,” Mr Hourihan said.
“Given the serious doubts which we have about the viability of the new approach towards dental care for children and the existing problems which are worsening the wait for assessment and treatment, we have written to the Minister for Health asking that rather than make arbitrary Budget announcements, that he would intervene as a matter of urgency to arrest this trend and direct that steps are taken to rebuild the public school dental service pending any final decision being made as regards its future.”
The IDA has also signalled to Minister Harris that any contract talks relating to dentists in general practice cannot commence until a framework agreement is put in place to remove the threat of legal prosecution hanging over the Association (similar to that agreed some years ago with the Irish Medical Organisation) and with an assurance that talks on replacing the unfit for purpose medical card scheme for adults begin in tandem with any other contract talks.