Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

7:00 pm

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise the issue of long waiting lists for assessment and orthodontic treatment in the Cork region. Cork, which is in the HSE's southern region, has always had a difficulty in this regard, particularly in the past 12 months. I wish to pay tribute to Dr. Ian O'Dowling, a consultant orthodontist who died suddenly this time last year. He was a long-time campaigner for the improvement of orthodontic services for the individuals with whom he was dealing.

In general, the people who need this type of treatment are in their adolescent years. It is not always a matter of appearances. In many cases, the treatment is required for health reasons. For example, one could be in a great deal of pain. If teeth are not adjusted and repaired in the early years when their formation can be influenced, it can lead to long-term difficulties in adulthood. As such, orthodontic treatment is important for medical reasons and reasons of appearance.

Following a parliamentary question that I tabled, I received the latest figures for waiting lists in the southern region. At the beginning of October, the number of people awaiting assessment for orthodontic treatment was 3,455 and the average waiting time was 12 months. Children are not considered until they reach 12 years of age. The waiting list for category 4 treatment comprises 2,942 people who have been waiting 42 months. As such, the average amount of time someone who is older than 12 years of age must wait to be assessed and treated is 54 months according to my figures. This is four and a half years. A young individual would need to wait throughout his or her teenage years for orthodontic treatment. This is unacceptable.

In the past 13 months, Dr. O'Dowling has not been replaced. In his capacity as a consultant orthodontist, he regularly campaigned to increase services. Will the Minister of State outline what effect the moratorium on recruiting orthodontists has had on the extensive waiting lists? A great deal of hardship and distress is being caused to young people and their families. Will the Minister of State address the possibility of purchasing services in the private sector to deal with the waiting lists? The lists have become excessive and will never return to normal levels unless vacancies are filled. We need to ensure the waiting lists, particularly in light of their development during the past 12 months, are tackled if we are to revert to a situation in which we can provide young people with the treatment they need and deserve.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I am responding to Deputy Clune on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. The HSE's southern region provides orthodontic care to patients throughout counties Cork and Kerry. Patients are referred to the orthodontic service from primary dental services. Following referral, consultant orthodontists assess all patients from the age of 12 years. On assessment, patients begin their treatment, are placed on a treatment waiting list or are discharged, depending on their treatment needs.

The HSE identifies those patients who have a great dental health need and who will obtain health gain from the intervention. Prioritisation of care in this way ensures that public funds are targeted on those with the greatest clinical need. It also aims to ensure that treatment is provided in a timely manner by the orthodontic workforce. Urgent cases, such as patients with a cleft lip and palate, are treated as soon as possible. Other patients who qualify for treatment but whose treatment needs are less urgent are placed on the treatment waiting list.

At present, HSE south is experiencing particular challenges in providing orthodontic services. These are partly as a result of the untimely death of an orthodontic consultant and the unavailability of a consultant orthodontist and a specialist orthodontist who have been on maternity leave. The HSE south is addressing these difficulties. Locum arrangements have been put in place. The HSE has also tendered for the provision of orthodontic services in respect of a specific cohort of patients who have been waiting significantly long periods for treatment. It is hoped that these initiatives will improve the waiting times in Cork and Kerry.