Tuesday 20 August 2019

'Promising free dental care to under-16s is all well and good but delivering it is another matter' - dentists' warning to government

Photo posed
Photo posed
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

IT'S all very well to promise free dental care to the under sixes and to say it will be extended to all children under 16 but delivering on that pledge is another matter entirely, dentists warned today.

The Irish Dental Association (IDA) was commenting on the Government’s promise that a new package of care will be rolled out from next year.

It would see private dentists doing most dental care for children, in contrast to the current system which is mostly reliant on the HSE.

There would be “packages of care” for children up to the age of 16.

But talks with private dentists have yet to take place.

The Irish Dental Association warned the Government that its new oral health policy, ‘Smile agus Sláinte’ will be judged by what it delivers, not what it promises.

IDA President Kieran O’Connor said that while the Association welcomed the long overdue publication of the policy – it is 25 years since the last policy was published – and its greater focus on prevention, he pointed out that its members were not consulted in any meaningful way or involved in its formulation.

Dr O’Connor said the Association, which holds it annual meeting this week, would need to study the plan carefully to see how it compared with its vision for oral health services.

He said nothing short of a complete reversal of Government policy would be required if the policy was to be rolled out successfully.

“Over the last decade the Government has slashed spending on oral health programmes, taking close to €1bn out of the system.

“The proposed reforms – which are linked to the cross-party Sláintecare programme - will necessitate huge investment and resources by the state, so it’s essential that sufficient, ringfenced funding is set aside for them.

“The new policy will also provide the first real test for the Government of its commitment to Sláintecare. It’s all very well to promise free dental care to the under sixes and to say you are then going to extend it to all children under 16. Delivering on that promise is another matter entirely.

“Oral health at Government level has long been regarded as the poor relation of general health and has generally been overlooked as a gateway to promoting general health.

“Although this is a pivotal year for oral health, the fact that the Minister and his Department failed to consult in any meaningful way with the IDA - and other stakeholders – on the new policy indicates that key lessons haven’t been learnt.”

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