Patients are traveling ‘unprecedented distances’ to access dental treatment under a scheme for medical cardholders, dentists have warned, while an invitation to meet with the Department of Health and HSE to finding solutions to the problem has still not been received.
Irish Dental Association CEO Fintan Hourihan said members were “completely at a loss” as to why indications that health officials would soon invite the organization to talks were yet to come. followed through, after it was mentioned again in the Dáil this week.
“We are absolutely open,” he said. “We are completely lost. It is clear that the diet is not fit for its purpose. It is inexplicable to us why there is a delay.
Under this program, adult medical card holders can access a range of dental services and treatments such as an examination, two fillings per calendar year and extractions if needed.
However, it has been recognized that fewer and fewer dentists are operating under the scheme, with many believing it is unsustainable to stay there. The situation has worsened over the past two years, with dentists saying the ‘failed’ system for medical cardholders needs to be replaced with a ‘fundamentally new approach’.
The issue was raised in the Dáil late Thursday evening by Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North-West Michael Moynihan. He said many voters with medical cards raised the issue with him, saying they couldn’t be seen by a dentist under the scheme.
Junior Health Minister Anne Rabbitte said Minister Stephen Donnelly was “fully aware” that this has become an “increasing problem during the pandemic”. ‘The problem is that too many dentists who are under contract to the HSE to treat patients in medical care have chosen to leave the scheme,’ she said.
Ms Rabbitte said some parts of the country have been particularly affected, which is also concerning. “The minister has listened to dentists and the Irish Dental Association and heard their frustrations with the scheme,” she said.
She said the minister “does not disagree” with their view on the matter. The deputy minister said department officials and the HSE will invite the Irish Dental Association for further discussions, with a view to finding “immediate solutions for the benefit of patients and the dental community”.
She also said a thorough review of the program would begin early in the new year.
Mr Moynihan said he dreaded the words ‘at the start of the new year’ and added: ‘The urgency of this matter does not deserve to wait until the new year or four, five or six weeks for a serious engagement with the Irish Dental Association takes place. ”
Mr Hourihan added that he was aware TDs were being inundated with calls from constituents on the matter. “When we manage to sit down with [the Department and HSE], we will tell them more of the same will not be enough,” he said. “A new approach is needed.”