Oral health draft report shelved after two years


TWO YEARS after the announcement of the development of an Oral Health Policy by Minister for Health Mary Harney, the final report has still not been published.

A draft of the final report seen by The Irish Times, which was completed last July with a foreword written by Mary Harney, has now been shelved.

Extensive consultations with the public and the oral health sector took place over the two years of its development, which was led by the Department of Health and the HSE. It is 15 years since the last oral health policy was published by the Department of Health.

The unpublished Oral Health Policy details how general oral health has improved but outlined “how this is not the case among certain groups, including medical card holders and children under five years of age”.

It states that “the total State investment in oral health is estimated at in excess of €250 million annually”.

The policy is critical of how current public dental schemes are failing those they are designed to help, in particular children, people with special needs and older people in care.

It states that there is “an apparent mismatch between peaks in childhood caries and age range on which public dental treatment focuses . . . It is clear that young people need more preventive dental care and advice and their oral hygiene and dietary habits must improve”.

Regarding people with disabilities and older people in care, it says: “Deficiencies in the level of care offered to people with disabilities and special needs, and, in particular, older people in long-stay institutions, were highlighted and need to be addressed . . . There is widespread acceptance of the need to enhance and strengthen services for people with special needs and disability.”

The report is critical of the “the considerable overlaps between both providers and recipients of State-funded dental services” and states “co-ordination mechanisms were lacking to ensure cost effectiveness and equity”.

Regarding the Public Dental Scheme, it recommends providing care based on need rather than age, improving data and management information and the strengthening of its leadership and management by creating a single clinical manager to head up the service.

The policy recommends the immediate merging of the free dental care for adult medical card holders (DTSS) and the subsidised care for PRSI contributor (DTBS).

The policy also recommends filling the vacant post of chief dental officer in the Department of Health at the earliest opportunity and recommends this person work closely with a new position of head of the public dental service in the HSE.

There has been no chief dental officer in the department since Dr Gerard Gavin resigned four years ago.

The policy also makes recommendations in relation to regulating dental care, training and manpower planning.