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Friday, 3rd December 2021

Louth Dental Care Survey indicates system in ruins

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Deputy Ged Nash.

Medical card holders and children are bearing the brunt of the system’s shortcomings

One of the most shocking statistics revealed by a survey undertaken by Labour TD Ged Nash to find out about people’s experiences of dental care in Louth is that 87 per cent of parents who responded said their child has never been offered a free dental exam.

Having received numerous complaints from medical card and private patients regarding their difficulties accessing dental treatment, Deputy Nash launched the online survey to get a clearer view of the problems facing patients across the county.

The key results of the survey, which attracted over 200 responses and was published today, are as follows:

  • 91% of all respondents reported an increased difficulty in receiving dental care in the past five years, with one in two respondents stating that the availability of dental care in the county was “very poor”.
  • Two-thirds of respondents who have medical cards are currently awaiting dental treatment (for themselves or a loved one) have been on the waiting list for over 18 months
  • 87% of parents who responded said their child has never been offered a free dental exam
  • 72% of people rated the affordability of dental care in their area as “very poor”.
  • 89% of medical card holders who responded to the survey stated they were forced to pay for dental care
  • 78% of medical card holders who responded indicated that their regular dental practice had been unable to provide treatment to them at some point over the last two years,

The survey results have confirmed the true extent of this problem, with medical card holders and schoolchildren amongst the worst affected.

Deputy Nash said, “we have known for a long time that the system is broken but it is high time the Government took action to fix this crisis. I first brought the shocking state of the dental system to light in early 2020 and since then it has only gotten worse.”

Nash lamented that it was medical card holders and children who were bearing the brunt of the system’s shortcomings. For instance, the survey found that 87% of parents said their child has never been offered a free dental exam – something which contravenes the Government’s own obligations in terms of free dental check-ups and subsequent treatment for schoolchildren.

Similarly, an astonishing 89% of medical card holders who responded to the survey stated they were forced to pay for dental care despite the fact that the dental service treatment scheme (DTSS) is intended to cover the cost for such patients such as pensioners, low-income families and those with an illness or disability.

This tallies with the mass withdrawal of dentists from the DTSS, with statistics recently released to Deputy Nash from the HSE showing that the number of practitioners under the scheme in Louth had dropped by more than half (from 34 to 16) since 2017.

Deputy Nash also met with the Irish Dental Association (IDA) and local dentist representatives and heard first-hand their concerns. The association outlined the Government and the HSE’s broken promises (for example, around the provision of PPE for dentists) and their failure to meaningfully engage with the association to address fundamental issues with the DTSS.

Specifically, they noted how funding under the scheme has not increased in nearly 15 years, and consequently practitioners have been forced to withdraw due to rising costs and overheads. On the back of this meeting, the Louth and East Meath TD has written directly to the Minister for Health to demand immediate action.

The Deputy remarked that “There is a litany of problems that can only be solved by the Department of Health sitting down with the IDA to reform the current scheme. On behalf of patients and the dentists, I am calling on the Minister to begin this review immediately, to provide additional funding to clear the current backlog and get our dental system back up to scratch.”

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