Local Deputy Fergus O’Dowd and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD.
It was revealed in the Dail yesterday that two thirds of the dentists treating Medical card holders in counties Louth and Meath have left the scheme since 2019.
The serious situation whereby Medical Card Holders in Drogheda, South Louth and parts of County Meath have been left with little or no access to dental treatment was raised by local Deputy Fergus O’Dowd.
More and more dentists in the region have left the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTTS) since the onset of Covid-19 which has also been blamed for a delay in a review of the scheme.
In Louth and Meath the numbers of participating dental practices participating in the scheme has reduced from 61 in 2019 to an estimated 21 expected to be remaining by the end of this year based on the current number of dentists who have indicated their intention to resign.
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This is complicated by the fact that many of the dentists staying on the scheme are not taking on new patients and are only providing care for those who have previously attended their practice.
The issues dental practices are reporting include the supply of PPE by the State, Covid-19 and related requirements which affecting throughput, and fees.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, told Deputy O’Dowd that it is regrettable that a significant number of dentists chose to leave the Scheme that provides care for medical card patients during the pandemic and he acknowledged that this has led to difficulties for medical card patients in accessing dental care in some parts of the country.
“I have been assured that the HSE Public Dental Service is seeking to provide emergency cover for any medical card patients who are experiencing such problems” he said.
“I have given a commitment to a substantive review of the DTSS, which will include fees paid to dentists. I have also acknowledged the immediate issues of concern with current arrangements under the Scheme.
He added that he had also instructed officials to hold talks with the Irish Dental Association to address both of these issues.
The DTTS is available to medical card holders aged 16 and over. The dental care is provided by independent dental practitioners who have a contract with the HSE.
Patients may choose to have their treatment undertaken by any dentist who participates in the scheme. The Scheme covers a dental examination, two fillings in each calendar year, prescriptions, denture repairs and extractions as necessary.
Other more complex treatments such as the provision of dentures require the approval of the HSE before the dentist can proceed and in this case the dentist applies directly to the HSE.
The Chief Officer of the Midlands Louth Meath Community Health Organisation told Deputy O’Dowd in a written response that the Louth Meath HSE Dental Service has continuously provided information and assisted patients in seeking dental care from participating DTSS contractors.
However more recently, these requests from patients have become more frequent as many fail to access care and in many cases there is no option of redirecting patients to alternative DTSS contractors due the ever increasing resignations from the scheme .
“In line with National Oral Health Office guidance, the HSE Dental Service currently provides an emergency only service to those who cannot access a participating DTSS dentist” he said.
“We are mindful that arrangements for an emergency dental service for adults should take full account of the need to protect services for children and adults requiring special care” he added.
However, if necessary the HSE will need to prioritise their services to provide a minimum of emergency care to all eligible patients.
“This will inevitably have a significant impact on the special needs and children’s dental service in Louth and Meath, a service that already has significant backlogs due to the reduction in capacity with new Covid-19 work practices, extensive redeployment of Dental Staff during the pandemic and the difficulty at present in recruiting Dental Surgeons in Ireland.”
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