Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said he is "concerned" with the reduction in the number of dentists participating in the dental treatment scheme for people with medical cards since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Donnelly said he is committed to a “root and branch review” of the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) as “it simply has not kept pace with today’s preventative approach to dental intervention”.
The Dental Treatment Services Scheme covers basic dental treatment for adults with medical cards including examinations, extractions and two fillings per year. Other forms of treatment can be provided with prior approval from the HSE.
“I’m aware of the issues with the Dental Treatment Services Scheme and I’m particularly concerned with the reduction in the number of dentists participating since the start of the pandemic,” Mr Donnelly told the Irish Dental Association’s AGM, which took place online on Saturday.
“I’m also acutely aware that this has led to problems for patients in some areas accessing services. I’m committed to ensuring the sustainability and viability of the Dental Treatment Services Scheme which will need to be revised to align with modern evidence and move away from symptom led attendance with an emergency focus.
“We also need to encourage attendance for prevention and provide for evidence based oral healthcare attune to individual needs.”
Mr Donnelly said addressing immediate issues with the scheme needs to “happen quickly” and he has instructed officials to begin dialogue with the IDA on the issue.
Dr Anne O'Neill, outgoing President of the Irish Dental Association, said the Dental Treatment Services Scheme was "widening the gap" between those who can afford private dental care and those who cannot.
“Over the past number of years, the Irish Dental Association has repeatedly challenged the Department to discuss the problems within the sector, most recently with the Dental Treatment Services Scheme, which has not happened,” she said.
"What we need to see now is action because, up to this point, dentists have lost faith in the ability of the Department of Health to listen to the dental profession and bring about real and substantive change for the good of patients. We must ensure that it is the patient that is prioritised."
According to the IDA, less than 800 of the country’s 2,500 general practice dentists were actively treating medical card patients last month as “record numbers of dentists abandoned the DTSS scheme following unprecedented funding cuts”.
The IDA said “an entirely new approach” is required and not just “tweaks to a completely discredited scheme and contract” in order to provide adequate care to patients.
Dr O’Neill added that the redeployment of public sector dentists to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination rollout programme will have “a hugely negative effect on patients, particularly children”.
“These dentists are willing and able to meet the challenge of being vaccinators, but it is important to state that their absence means a lack of early intervention, a lack of early diagnosis and treatment of dental diseases to both children and vulnerable adults, some of which will result in the loss of teeth for life,” she said.