Dentists' representiatve body has said it is "astonished and gravely disappointed" by the lack of detail provided by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on promised measures to improve access to dental care in Budget 2022.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said during his budget speech on Tuesday that the Government would provide “significant investment to improve dental access across a range of oral health measures”.
On Thursday, Mr Donnelly outlined how his department would break down its budgetary allocation of €21 billion, described as “the biggest ever investment in Ireland’s health and social care services”.
He said funding of €45 million would be provided next year to advance the Sláintecare objective “to ensure that care is accessible and affordable for the most vulnerable in our society”. This, he added, would include “a range of oral health measures”.
Irish Dental Association chief executive Fintan Hourihan said the group was "astonished and gravely disappointed" that no further details were provided by Mr Donnelly.
“Although a €45 million budget was announced to increase access and affordability to medical and dental care, including expanding free dental care, we have yet to see how the department plans to roll this out,” he said.
“There are now only 750 dentists treating medical card patients, which is less than half the number of Dental Treatment Services Scheme contracts held by dentists up to two years ago.
“To put it in context, that is one dentist per 2,000 medical card patients. It means that there are now parts of the country where there is just one dentist covering an entire county or region.”
Mr Hourihan said dentists “continue to have serious concerns” regarding access to dental care for children due to the “significant deterioration” in the level of service provided through the public dental service.
“There are now an estimated 100,000 children on waiting lists for a public dental appointment, and a six-year waiting list for orthodontic treatment,” he said.
“Without a plan or roadmap to reform, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how the medical card scheme can survive, which means more and more of our most vulnerable patients will lose out on important access to dental care.
“An entirely new scheme is required, and, while deeply frustrated, we continue to call on the Government to engage with the Irish Dental Association on an alternative proposal for a more sustainable solution that ensures access to care for those who need it most.”