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News / March 23, 2010

Dentists issue stark health warning over cuts

by Guy Hiscott

IDA representatives state that cuts of between 30 to 40 million in HSE funding for the medical card scheme (DTSS) expected next month will result in a significant reduction in the number of check-ups, fillings, extractions, denture and gum treatments for card holders.

New figures indicate that it will result in a total reduction of over 468,000 treatments including;

•  93,600 fewer check ups
• 181,000 fewer fillings
• 32,000 fewer extractions
• 11,000 fewer surgical extractions
• 12,300 fewer denture treatments

• 11,700 fewer X-rays
• 17,400 fewer gum treatments.

The cuts will affect all medical card holders, including the over 70s and children. It is feared that tens of thousands of people with tooth decay will be denied fillings and will instead be offered either permanent loss of their tooth by extraction or medication for pain relief.

The chief executive of the IDA, Fintan Hourihan, commented that if the HSE proceeds with these cutbacks in April 2010, the dental health of hundreds of thousands of people will be damaged and the dental health of the nation will be set back by decades.

He said: ‘As it is the system is barely limping along. These new cuts are akin to the introduction of rationing. But how do you ration dental treatments? Not for the first time the most vulnerable in our society will suffer most and these measures will widen the divide between the less well off and those who can afford to be treated privately. On a human level these cutbacks are going to cause pain and distress to hundreds of thousands of people.’

Mr Hourihan went on to state that dentists will be placed in impossible situations in the coming months: ‘Fillings and root canal treatment will only be allowed in ‘approved emergency circumstances’. Who is going to make that call? The HSE says dentures will be prioritised based on need, but again the criteria are not stated. This is a recipe for disaster and there is no way that hospitals and HSE clinics will be able to deal with the extra demands placed on them.’

The IDA is calling on Minister for Health, Mary Harney, and the HSE to examine all alternative means of limiting the impact of these cuts. These include agreeing supplementary funding, using the National Treatment Purchase Fund and prioritising the spending on the medical card scheme within the wider dental budget.

Mr Hourihan concluded: ‘We have offered to engage in talks to find a workable solution. The path the HSE is on right now means we are storing up huge problems for the dental health of the nation further down the road. Medical card holders have significantly poorer dental health as it is.

‘If patients are denied treatments they may feel they have no choice but to take legal action to vindicate their statutory right to dental care under the 1970 Health Act. Not only are these cuts not fair, they don’t make any financial sense either.’