Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Public Dental Services: Motion [Private Members]

 

5:35 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)

I commend the Regional Group on bringing forward the motion. I have been raising similar issues with the Minister for some time, as have many other Deputies in the House, which he acknowledged. The starting point is the waiting lists, which paint their own picture. There are 13,000 children and adults on waiting lists for dental and oral surgery in the public system and a further 13,000 on orthodontic waiting lists. Of those, more than 1,000 special care patients and 3,000 children are on waiting lists for dental surgery under general anaesthetic. We know the waiting lists are chronic. Children with special needs, other children and adults, many of whom are in pain, are waiting long numbers of years for access to basic dental treatment. We also have what can be described as a perfect storm in oral and dental health.

On top of that, the dental treatment scheme has collapsed, with the vast majority of dentists having left it. I have engaged with the Irish Dental Association on its role in encouraging dentists to be part of the scheme. At my first meeting with the association, its representatives told me they had been dealing with this issue for years, not just with this Minister for Health, but also with several of his predecessors, and they had lost trust. Their members have lost trust. The Minister stated that he has allocated more money to this issue but that has not worked and is not attracting more dentists back into the scheme. There is need for negotiation on a new contract. If that is what he wants to do, there must be genuine negotiation with the association. Its representatives told me that they want more money for screening and to provide more preventative care. Some of that was done in the most recent budget in providing for additional services, but more needs to be done. If we are going to get dentists back into the scheme, more will have to be done and the Minister will have to engage with them.

In parallel with that, more dentists need to be hired to work directly in the public system. There simply are not enough of them. The same is true in the context of general practice. We need to start looking at directly hired GPs to do public work as well. That is all part of what needs to be done.

This all comes back to the core issue that is preventing us doing lots of things in healthcare, namely, workforce planning. We need to train more dentists in the first instance. We need to have more graduates coming through and we need to encourage more of those newly qualified dentists to be part of the DTSS. We also need to put in place opportunities for more of those people to work directly for the State within the public system. That is what needs to be done. I acknowledge what the Minister has done in this area. Some of it has been of benefit. He needs to genuinely commit to finding a resolution to the DTSS, however, because it is not tolerable. It is not just that people are not able to pay for treatment; even if they can pay, they are finding it difficult to access a dentist who will take them. As the Minister said, it is an urgent issue and it needs an urgent response. A direct intervention from him with the Irish Dental Association is the only way this will be moved on.

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