The Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has today criticised Government funding of the public dental health service (concerning dentists directly employed by the State), and has called for immediate recruitment of extra dentists to cope with ever-lengthening waiting lists for school screening and vital dental treatments.
Speaking at the annual IDA Seminar for HSE Dental Surgeons in Portlaoise, Mr. Fintan Hourihan said that the IDA will ballot for industrial action in the event that the HSE makes unilateral changes to the terms and conditions of HSE dentists. He also said the provision of public dental care was now in crisis.
“We have seen decreases of up to 23% in the number of dentists employed by the HSE for school screening in the last ten years, and we have seen documentation confirming that waiting lists of 24 to 30 months now exist for specialist treatments.”
The newly-installed President of the IDA Group for HSE Surgeons, Dr. Grainne Dumbleton, agreed that the availability of staff to provide the targeted public dental health service through the HSE is a particular concern.
“We have received reports from our representatives across the country that increasing numbers of children are only being offered examination and dental care for the first time at sixth class (the oldest age group) – instead of three age groups (first/second, fourth and sixth classes). This has been confirmed as policy in Cork, which joins many other parts of the country in this regard,” she said.
This later entry to the system increases patients’ reliance on access to emergency dental care which also has serious implications for dentists currently working within the services.
“This is very worrying for children and vulnerable adults with additional needs, who rely on the care provided directly by the public dental health service and who are at risk of harm as a result of the lack of investment within the salaried service over the past number of years. We need to immediately invest in our salaried public dental health service given that in the past decade the number of eligible children has risen by 20% and available staff has decreased by over 20% during the same timeframe,” she said.
Mr. Hourihan said that IDA members were seriously concerned about the viability of the proposed National Oral Health Policy, which seeks to move from a risk-based, targeted public dental service model to a system where children are seen if they attend in independent dental practices.
“A targeted dental service has been in place for over 20 years. Members of our Association know from vast experience that children rely on parents to bring them to the dentist and not every parent can prioritise visits to the dentist. The targeted approach has an integrated safety net to support parents and children. What safety net will be put in place for those children who are not routinely taken to the dentist? Evidence from the NHS in England has shown that just half of children entitled to attend the dentist for free actually do so,” he said.
Responding to Budget 2020 earlier this week, in which free dental care has been promised to under-6s, Mr. Hourihan said that the Government wanted to expand the provision of care for children while failing to adequately recognise and invest in the role that the public dental health service will have in providing care as part of the National Oral Health Policy as currently outlined. “The Association wishes to discuss alternative models of care to that proposed by the Government in order to improve oral health for children but in the meantime recruitment of dentists to the existing public dental health service is urgently required and we have called for Minister Harris to issue direction accordingly.
“The IDA has consistently called for an adequately funded public dental health service but, ultimately, the proposals as they currently stand will have a negative effect on patients who deserve better from the health system.”
The IDA’s seminar for HSE dentists is currently taking place in Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise, with over 150 dentists attending.