Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Public Dental Services: Motion [Private Members]

 

6:15 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)

I welcome the representatives of the dentists to the Gallery to listen to the debate. It is frustrating to hear the response of the Government to what has been put forward by the Opposition. For years the dental sector in this country has been on the brink of collapse. We know it is at breaking point across the country, which is staggering, given the importance of dental care to so many people.

The heart of this problem is administrative. The problem with the administration in so many sectors in this country is that it does not listen to the sector. The sector itself is the group of people who are best tooled to be able to come up with solutions and design the system going forward in the future. They are frustrated that they are not being listened to. I know the Minister of State is new in his role but if I could give him any advice it would be to allow those people a position to steer the direction of the sector in the future.

We need proper systems that wrap around communities, not narrow and restrictive schemes. Firing money at those narrow and restrictive schemes will not fix the problem. One of the difficulties I have with the Minister of State's speech is that much of it is in the future tense and if you take away the future tense there is very little left in it. Given the difficulties that have been created in recent years, we should have been able to point to actions that have been carried out and delivered upon.

It is clear that the lack of dental staff in the system is a difficulty. The emigration of so many healthcare workers is a problem that the Government is not grappling with. A key to grappling with that problem is to provide proper terms, conditions and pay. Anybody who is employing a person in any business anywhere in the world has to create a proper recruitment package to be competitive, and that simply is not the case for so many people at the moment. We need far more dentists in the system.

The public dental system is a particular gripe I have.

It is the poor relation of this Government in terms of the delivery of the service. It has massive outcomes for people right across the system. In my own county of Meath, our public dental clinic is being closed. It is going to reopen in Dunshaughlin, but the four dental clinic surgeries in Navan will not be replaced. Only two will be built in Dunshaughlin. Will the Minister look at this specific issue for us, if he can? That one of the fastest growing towns in the country does not have a dental clinic for children is a major problem.

First, fourth and sixth class children are not being called to dentists anymore in County Meath. It is incredible. These children are only receiving their first appointments in secondary school. That means far more damage being caused, far more invasive treatment being necessary and it being far more costly to the State in the long run. There is no logic there. There are 13,000 children awaiting orthodontic treatment for grade 4 and grade 5 eligibility criteria. There are 100,000 children on the waiting list for public dental appointments, and there is a six-year waiting list for orthodontic treatment. It is scandalous that we would allow that to happen. That people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more at risk in these terms is incredible. I was looking at the figures and the funding actually decreased from 2017 to 2020. Spending on dental care for medical card patients nationwide fell from €63 million in 2017 to €40 million in 2020. There is no excuse and no logic for that whatsoever. In some places the fall was recorded as being as high as 48%. As a result of the dental treatment services scheme haemorrhaging dentists, many cannot participate at the moment. There are 700 dentists State-wide participating in the scheme, and in counties like Meath there are now fewer than 20 dentists participating in it. It is almost creating what I would call a Victorian dystopia, where people from well-heeled leafy suburbs have good teeth and do not suffer pain, and people from working-class backgrounds have the opposite. Are we really talking about 2023 being reflective of what was happening in the 19th century? The Government needs to do far better.

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