Thursday, 19 January 2017
Topical Issue Debate
Dental Services Provision
Just for the record, I wish to confirm that I was at the meeting on 7 December.
There were four dental clinics operating in Drogheda to cater for all of the children in primary school throughout Drogheda and south Louth. As of the start of January 2017, no dental clinics are in operation in Drogheda or the south Louth area. It is expected that no dental service for primary school children will be in place before June 2017. This means that 200 primary school children per week will be without a local service over the course of the next six months, which could amount to just under 5,000 children, or 4,800 to be precise, while waiting for services to be reinstated.
I will give some background to the issue. There were two dental surgeries in the Haymarket clinic in Drogheda. These were removed and are no longer in operation. The other two clinics in the health centre at Ballsgrove were forced to close due to extensive fire damage. The new clinic that has been promised for the Boyne centre in Drogheda is not due to open for another six months. Primary school children are currently being referred to the Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, which is causing significant delays, disruption and gross inconvenience for children and their parents. The Minister of State would accept that it is unacceptable that upwards of 5,000 children would be left without a dental service for the next six months.
Will the Minister of State make provision, as a matter of urgency, for a mobile surgery unit to cover Drogheda and south Louth as an interim measure? Will she give consideration to granting emergency approval for same, given the absence of dental services in the south of the county?
We all know that, given an absence of services for six months and the number of children involved, this will cause gross inconvenience and disruption and a backlog will be created. I await the response of the Minister of State. In the absence of a decision, would she at least give a commitment to having the HSE provide transport arrangements, such as an hourly shuttle bus service to take patients to Dundalk or Navan during the six-month interim period?
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of dental services in Drogheda and south Louth, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague who sends his apologies.
Dental services for children up to 16 years of age and persons of all ages with special needs are provided by the public dental service of the HSE through its dental clinics. HSE dental clinics provide a screening and fissure sealant programme for children at key stages of development, corresponding with sixth class and second class in primary school and fourth class where resources are available. The service includes referral for further treatment, including orthodontic treatment, where necessary. Emergency care for children up to 16 years of age and treatment for special needs patients are also provided.
The issue raised is an operational matter for the HSE and officials in the Department of Health have contacted the executive regarding services in Drogheda and south Louth. I am informed by the HSE that in 2016 the HSE public dental service had four surgeries in Drogheda, as the Deputy correctly pointed out, two in Haymarket and two in Ballsgrove. Unfortunately, in mid-2016 the two surgeries in Haymarket were closed due to flood damage. Services in Drogheda were then limited to the two surgeries in Ballsgrove. Unfortunately, on 26 December 2016 there was a fire at Ballsgrove. Although it did not damage the dental surgeries, it has resulted in the health centre being closed until the fire damage is repaired. As a result, there are currently no dental clinics available in Drogheda.
Alternative arrangements have been made for patients to access services in the nearest available clinics. Currently, all emergencies and routine dental cases for Drogheda and south Louth patients are being catered for in Duleek, Ardee and Dundalk. The potential for minibus transfer for patients with lack of access to transport is being explored by the HSE. I will try to get a further update for the Deputy on that. The public dental service will continue to provide screening, referral and intervention to children in sixth, second and fourth classes. Emergency care will continue to be provided also. The HSE has advised, however, that it is unlikely that decontamination and infection control standards acceptable to the Dental Council would be achievable in a mobile clinic. Such a mobile service could, at most, be used for examinations. However, examinations can be carried out in local schools if necessary. The HSE is closely monitoring the situation on a day-to-day basis. It considers that the arrangements in place are more acceptable and beneficial to patients.
A new dental clinic is due to open in Drogheda in the next six months. It is expected that the opening of this new facility will provide a long-term solution to the difficulties currently being experienced. I have asked the HSE to keep the Deputy updated and to provide a further update to the Deputy of the position as of 31 January 2017.
I note that the answer to my question on a mobile dental unit appears to be "No". I do not know whether the Minister of State or the Minister are aware that mobile dental units are used extensively in parts of England and are very successful. They deal with home care for patients who are confined to their homes, as well as everything else. The response from the Department is not correct. I presume the Department does not want the bother or inconvenience of providing a mobile unit.
I again refer to the 200 primary school children per week in the south of the county per week who will be affected. Over the course of six months that will amount to 5,000 children. The Minister of State said the HSE is considering providing transport, which is to be welcomed if it is followed through on. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to revert to me with a positive response to that proposal?
If not, 200 children per week will be unable to travel to Dundalk or Ardee. The least the Department and HSE could do would be to provide transport. I ask the Minister of State to press this issue with the Department and revert to me as soon as possible. Every week that goes past means 200 children are directly affected.
We are particularly unfortunate that all four clinics were closed due to flood damage or fire. It is an unprecedented situation. The HSE is doing its best to cater for and deal with the more critical incidents and those who need services immediately.
While the Deputy is correct in saying that the service that is currently being provided is not at the same level that was previously available, services are trying to do their best to deal with all emergency cases and routine dental cases. Patients from Drogheda and south Louth are being seen in Duleek, Ardee and Dundalk.
While it is not ideal, an effort is being made to ensure that no one is left without any form of support or service.
I give a commitment to revert to the Deputy about the transport issue, but, as I am representing the Minister, I cannot give a commitment on it. I will revert to the Deputy though.