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Major recruitment drive and tax reliefs needed to adddress oral health crisis

(17 Aug 2017)

The Irish Dental Association has called on the government to initiate a major recruitment drive for dentists to enable the Public Dental Service to deliver on its programme of care for children and other vulnerable groups.

The IDA says that due to totally inadequate staffing levels the PDS is failing children who are waiting up to 7 or 8 and sometimes 12 years for their first dental screening.

Currently there are 300 dentists employed in the PDS but the IDA says this figure needs to be increased by 50% or 150 dentists if the service is to deliver on its objectives. 

International guidelines recommend that children should have their first dental examination by their first birthday. Dentists here have supported calls for the introduction of a voucher scheme for parents to cover the cost of their child’s first dental visit.

For most children in Ireland, their first scheduled encounter with the public dental service is at age seven or eight, under the school screening programme. Unfortunately thousands more are only being seen for the first time in sixth class, age twelve.

Reform of Med 2 Scheme

As part of its Pre-Budget submission the IDA is also calling for the restoration and expansion of tax relief on dental treatments – Med 2 – for prescribed dental treatments.

In January 2009, the Government restricted relief which could be claimed against the cost of dental treatment to the standard tax rate. This meant the withdrawal of €30m per annum of reliefs for the cost of dental treatment which has impacted on patients’ willingness to look after their dental health.

Recently the CSO confirmed that household spending on oral health fell by 60% between 2010 and 2015.

Comments

Fintan Hourihan, Chief Executive of the IDA says that while the IDA has a range of recommendations for Government for Budget 2018, its key proposals are the introduction of a recruitment campaign for the PDS and reform of the Med 2 Scheme.

“Staff shortages, clinic closures and a lack of policy and direction by the HSE are putting an intolerable burden on staff in the PDS and undermining their ability to provide an effective service.

“While the under 16 population has increased by 20% over the past decade to 1.1m, the number of dentists in the Public Dental Service charged with looking after their oral health has dropped by 20% due to recruitment restrictions.”

“The situation with children and oral examinations is akin to a lottery and that cannot be allowed to continue any longer. The IDA is calling on the Minister for Health to direct the HSE to urgently commence a recruitment campaign to bring staffing to the required levels”

“We estimate that half a billion euro worth of supports to patients and their families covered by the medical card and PRSI dental schemes have been lost by government cuts since 2010. We now need to start reversing the damage done by these cuts in state supports towards accessing dental care.  Expansion of the Med 2 Scheme will generate increased access and attendance, improve dental health and, ultimately bolster economic activity and returns to the Exchequer.

Lack of supports

In its submission the IDA pointed out that while dentists do not receive any financial support from the state, GMS doctors in general practice can receive up to €100K per year in grants to help toward their practices.

“Oral health is critical to maintaining good overall health, a fact that is continuously overlooked by Government when it comes to investing in our dental services and the dental profession. Budget 2018 is an opportunity for Government to afford dentists the same supports which are provided to other healthcare professionals” Hourihan said.

The IDA Pre-Budget 208 Submission can be accessed at www.dentist.ie in the section entitled Recent Submissions and Position Papers.