Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Public Dental Services: Motion [Private Members]


6:25 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)

I thank my colleagues in the Regional Group for tabling this motion and the newest member of the Regional Group, Deputy McHugh. He is very welcome on board. I also thank Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh for her assistance in this. I thank every Member in the House who spoke, both Government and Opposition, in support of this motion, and the fact it is being unanimously adopted by the House is a clear message. It is to be hoped we will see the proposals in this motion adopted.

I was contacted during the week by Mary. She has been trying to get an appointment with a dentist. She rang every dentist in County Roscommon, County Mayo and County Leitrim, and not one of them was taking medical card patients. Mary is a single parent with two adult children for whom she is the primary carer. She put it to me that it is not easy to survive on her welfare payments. She is someone who worked all her life. She was forced out of employment back in 2015. She paid all of her taxes like everyone else. She said she felt like she was begging to get the help she needed. For people like Mary, it is just not good enough. Under section 67 of the Health Act 1970, the HSE is obliged to provide dental treatment and dental appliances to persons under the medical card scheme. It is obliged to provide that. Instead of that, it has turned its back on those struggling to cope. The Minister spoke about engagement with the Irish Dental Association. It is my understanding the last engagement that took place with the Irish Dental Association was last March. That is the engagement that is taking place. Surely, for the sake of Mary and every other Mary in this country, we should resolve this issue and ensure people can get access to treatment.

In my area in counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, 36% of the dentists who were in the dental services scheme have left in the last two years. We are now down to just 36 dentists across our region, not one of whom is taking on additional patients.

Prevention with regard to our dental services is far better than cure. If we look at the oral health checks that have taken place over the last few years for children in first, second, fourth and sixth class and compare the figures for 2019 with the figures for the middle of this year, across counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon in 2019, 11,632 children got access to that dental assessment. Up to the middle of this year, that figure was just 3,429. The bulk of those at 53% were in County Roscommon, 29% were in County Mayo and 11% were in County Galway. There has been an appalling fall-off in the number of dental assessments taking place for children within our primary school system and this is only storing up trouble for the future. With regard to our orthodontic services, again, in counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, we have 1,343 children waiting on orthodontic services in our region.

The final issue I wish to bring up with the Minister of State is with regard to people with a disability. As the Minister of State knows, people with a disability do have not the same ability to communicate. They do not have the same ability to express where the pain is exactly in their mouths or what is causing the pain and discomfort. Backs have been turned on those people in terms of the provision of dental services. I have one constituent named Francis who is an adult individual with an intellectual disability. He was added to the urgent inpatient waiting list on 11 November of last year. Francis ended up in University Hospital Galway accident and emergency department on 28 November of last year with swelling to his face, hallucinations and confusion. No-one wants to be going into that accident and emergency department any day of the year; not someone with an intellectual disability with swelling to his face, hallucinations and confusion. He spent seven hours along with 151 other people in that emergency department on that particular day. He is still waiting today for his emergency treatment.

This is not just in about adults. It is the same situation for children with a disability who are required to go under an anaesthetic. Children on the autism spectrum who need to go under an anaesthetic are being excluded from the provision of dental care today because of that. There are children who should be in the mainstream system. We have encouraged children with a disability and those on the autism spectrum with a disability to be in the mainstream education system. They are being shut out of access to these services today, however. It is not good enough that this is happening.

In fairness, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, contacted me before the debate today. She has committed to working with Deputies from the Regional Group to try to address the disability issues regarding this matter. However, we all know that if we actually neglect oral hygiene, it leads to emergency dental issues, advanced oral lesions, chronic ill health and sepsis that all add, like the case of Francis, to pressure on our emergency departments, which just cannot cope.

My one final ask is for the Minister of State to sit down with the Irish Dental Association to resolve these issues and provide a basic level of service to every single citizen, regardless of his or her income. Regardless of whether people have money in their pocket, they deserve access to a basic dental service.


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