Roisin Shortall TD

A Social Democrats’ motion highlighting the deepening crisis in dental care in Ireland will be debated in the Dáil on Wednesday (May 22).

Róisín Shortall TD, the party’s health spokesperson, said:

“Dental care continues to be one of the most neglected areas of our health service.

“The school screening programme is of particular concern. Children are supposed to have free check-ups in second, fourth and sixth classes with HSE dentists.

“However, some pupils are not getting their first appointment until they are in fourth year of secondary school due to mounting waiting lists and a staffing crisis that has seen a 23 per cent reduction in the number of HSE dentists between 2006 and 2022.

“There are an estimated 104,000 children on a waiting list for the school screening dental service out of an eligible 208,000 children. In the past five years, there has been a 31 per cent reduction in children seen by HSE dentists.

“The Dental Treatment Service Scheme (DTSS) is also in crisis, with the number of participating dentists dropping by almost 50 per cent in the last 10 years. Of the 810 dentists currently signed up to the DTSS, only 600 are active.

“There are significant problems with how the DTSS operates. For example, the scheme restricts the number of preventative treatments allowed to save a tooth, such as fillings, but permits an unlimited number of extractions. There is also a major gap between the current fees paid to private dentists by the HSE and the costs they incur.

“The Minister for Health announced in May 2021 that he would instruct his officials to begin talks on a new scheme as a matter of urgency. However, three years later, the Irish Dental Association are still waiting for formal talks to begin.

“The National Oral Health Policy, Smile agus Sláinte, was published in 2019. One of the key actions in this policy was to bring forward a new Dentists Bill, as the existing legislation is almost 40 years old. However, the heads of the Bill have yet to be drawn up.

“The need for a new Act could not be more urgent. Last year, RTÉ Investigates uncovered serious patient safety concerns which have eroded public confidence in dentistry.

“This includes 37 dentists who have worked in Ireland despite having been sanctioned in other jurisdictions. Disturbingly, one case involved an individual who had been convicted of sexual assault.

“Despite such unacceptable risks to patients, the Dental Council does not have the appropriate enforcement powers to take action against people practising dentistry while unregistered – or even to enter or inspect a dental practice.

“Our motion this week calls on the Government to address all of these issues, and more, and make reform of dental healthcare in this country an immediate priority.”

May 20, 2024

Full text of motion here

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