Thursday, 19 January 2023
Public Dental Services: Motion [Private Members]
Michael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
I thank the Regional Group for putting forward this motion. It is an important motion that highlights the necessity for greater investment in dental services, particularly for greater investment in human resources and training of people to work in that area. It is neither today nor yesterday, but in the early 1980s, a time of great austerity in Ireland, when I was in primary school and I and all my schoolmates had two dental check-ups. I still remember them. Notwithstanding the difficulties the State was in at the time, we were able to provide dental care to children. Maybe it was not anything like the same level of care as is provided now in the event of somebody having a serious difficulty, but, nevertheless, relative to the times that were in it, it was quite a level of dental care. Unfortunately that is no longer the case to the same extent. In theory children are entitled to two dental check-ups, but those are not possible because of lack of resources.
I asked a parliamentary question of the Minister for Health last year and received a reply from the HSE in respect of the number of whole-time equivalent, WTE, posts in dental care in Clare. Those persons are employed to provide the dental check-ups to primary school children and also to persons with disabilities in Clare. In 2006 there were 10.2 WTE posts; five years later, in 2011, the number was down to 9.2; in 2016, notwithstanding the period of austerity, it was down to 8.2; and in 2021, when things were supposed to be picking up, it was down to 6.8. It had risen very slightly by October of last year to 7.4. We are still less than what we had in 2006. I appreciate that it is very difficult to recruit health professionals right across our healthcare system for a variety of reasons. They are in high demand not just in Ireland but across the world. Those who are educated in Ireland are in demand across the world and we have to compete with the rest of the world to hire them. It is a failing that needs to be addressed as a matter of some urgency.
On the matter of accident and emergency departments, County Clare is served by the HSE mid-west, which was in the news for unfortunate reasons over the past couple of months.
This is something that also needs to be addressed.
I am not suggesting for a moment that there are easy answers and nobody in the House is doing so. Nevertheless, there are answers and we need to move forward. Part of that is investment and part of it is training up hygienists and dental nurses so they can provide a greater level of service. It is also about investing more in our dental schools and training. Ultimately we must ensure that children get the early intervention they deserve and need. It is a truism but it is nevertheless true that a stitch in time saves nine and we want to avoid children having to have more traumatic interventions due to them not being seen at an early age. I support the motion.