Dental union withdraws support for State scheme


THE IRISH Dental Union has withdrawn its support for the State’s public dental scheme and called for a new scheme to be developed, in a move that could see some public dentists stop carrying out services for medical card patients.

A letter to Minister for Health James Reilly from the union’s chief executive, Fintan Hourihan, said the dental profession had no faith in the HSE’s operation of the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS), believing it had failed patients, and therefore felt they could no longer support it.

The union outlined 12 reasons why dentists could no longer endorse the DTSS, including the HSE’s alleged failure to inform patients of their dental entitlements; its cuts to “necessary” treatments; and “complete dissatisfaction” with the administration of the scheme and payments by the HSE Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS).

The letter was also critical of the fact that €11.5 million of last year’s €63 million DTSS budget went unspent, despite an increase in the eligible patient population by almost 70,000.

Mr Hourihan called on the Minister to add the unspent €11.5 million to this year’s DTSS budget and said a new State-funded dental scheme was “urgently required”.

He said the competition law barrier to negotiations on a new scheme had been effectively demolished following the comments of former attorney general Paul Gallagher and other legal experts during the recent CEO Health Forum.

As reported in The Irish Times, Mr Gallagher said the Competition Authority’s interpretation of competition law was legally wrong and there was no legal reason why such negotiations between the State and medical bodies could not take place.

Mr Hourihan said a new dental contract should be patient focused and properly resourced, “without the unilateral changes we have seen in recent times”.

“Our members feel it is essential that discussions commence sooner rather than later, given the great harm that is being done to the oral health of the nation because of the maladministration and inadequate funding of the DTSS at present,” he wrote.

The union is prohibited from advising its members to withdraw services from a public scheme and Mr Hourihan said dentists were mindful of their ethical obligations and the entitlement of the public to basic dental care.

However, dentists may individually choose to leave the scheme if they wish and it is understood that a number have indicated they may do so in frustration at the current situation.