Dentists in dire need of support, says dental association chief

Profession ‘collapsing’ under strain of restrictions and government help needed urgently

Hard times: ‘I have zero income. What am I supposed to do?’

Hard times: ‘I have zero income. What am I supposed to do?’

 

Many self-employed dentists fear not reopening after the coronavirus pandemic, their representative association has warned.

The profession is “effectively collapsing” under the strain of restrictions and Government support is needed urgently, according to chief executive of the Irish Dental Association Fintan Hourihan.

“I cannot overstate the sense of despair and panic in the dental profession at present. Unfortunately, there is also considerable anger amongst dentists at what is seen as complete neglect of our reasonable concerns by the Government,” he said.

In a letter to Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Finance Pascal Donohoe, the association said income from their practices is down on average by 90 per cent. Routine care is prohibited and emergency care impossible in some cases due to difficulties obtaining personal protection equipment (PPE). The association represents more than 2,000 public and private dentists.

It is “disappointing” that dentists had not received the kind of supports to survive the crisis that doctors and pharmacists received, he added.

“Medics and pharmacists have, quite rightly, been offered extensive support from the Government in order to continue to operate in such challenging circumstances. However, dentists have been left utterly isolated.”

One dentist, who did not want to give his name, said he operated a practice in the northeast employing 14 people. But on March 20th he closed.

“I was providing emergency telephone consultations and issuing prescriptions as I could not source the appropriate PPE to protect patients, staff and the wider public from further spread of Covid-19. At this point I had to lay off all my employees and my self-employed associates had no work,” he said.

“I still have around €9,000 per month of outgoing practice payments to be met. On top of this I have my own personal living costs like mortgage, utilities, health insurance, food for my family. I do not have cash reserves. I currently owe Revenue €8,000 for quarterly PAYE and PRSI.

“ I owe €12,000 to dental suppliers, laboratories, IT hardware installation, software fees for February and March. That is a total of €20,000 unpaid bills for two months and €9,000 accruing monthly. I have zero income. What am I supposed to do?”

Dentists need confidence they will be able to resume viable practices in the near future,” said Mr Hourihan. “We urge the Government to consider a special kick-start package for dentistry.”

Among the measures sought are:

  • Financial support for dentists to source PPE and make structural changes that may be needed to their clinics;
  • Direction to the Revenue Commissioners to introduce a moratorium on VAT payments; halve the rate of employer PRSI;
  • Influence banks to introduce an interest-free freeze on all loan repayments for those whose earnings have stalled;
  • And introduce tax relief on private health insurance for dental treatments.

“Oral health is vitally important for overall health,” said Mr Hourihan. “A significant proportion of the population cannot access this care because so many dentists are unable to open their practice doors. This is unacceptable.”

Neither the Health Service Executive nor the Department of Health was able to provide an answer on Sunday.

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