There is no prospect of free dental care for children under age six being introduced next September as envisaged by the Government, dentists have said.
The Irish Dental Association (IDA) said at the weekend, following a meeting of its board, that the Government's new national oral health policy was "unworkable".
IDA chief executive Fintan Hourihan said dentists at a series of regional meetings organised by the IDA in recent weeks had indicated they were not interested in the proposed service.
He said the Government’s initiative was seen as a cynical attempt to shift responsibility for the provision of dental service for children from a HSE-operated system to private dental practitioners.
The dispute was not about money as fees for the Government’s proposed services had not even been discussed at this point, he said.
Under plans announced last April by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, and the Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty, most dental care for children would pass from HSE public services to private, local dentists.
The plan provided for “packages of care” for children from birth to the age of 16 to be delivered by local dental practices, replacing the existing school-based services at primary level.
The packages would include examinations, preventive advice, referrals, prescriptions, fillings, extractions, assessments, orthodontics and oral surgery.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe announced in the budget in October that the first phase of this initiative, the provision of free dental care for children under the age of six, would be put in place next year.
The IDA said it had asked Mr Harris to consider alternatives to the Government plan.
It said Mr Harris initially signalled to the association in August that he would discuss alternative approaches but later Department of Health officials said it would not reopen discussions on the oral health policy, and only wished to engage with the IDA on its implementation.
Dentists are also unhappy that the department has said existing fee levels for dental services provided for medical card patients are to remain in place from January.
The IDA had made a detailed submission to the department on fees for dentists providing services under the scheme.
However, it said it has received a two-paragraph response to say the issues that it had raised would be considered in the context of broader contractual discussions in 2020.