THE IRISH DENTAL Association has hit back at the Government for a strategy the organisation believes could see the responsibility of child dental care shift from the public health service to private practices.
It comes as the sector continues to hemorrhage staff, with two-third of job vacancies unfilled.
HSE figures show that the number of public-only dentists has dropped by almost one quarter over the past 15 years, down from 330 in 2006 to 254 in 2022.
The Government allocated an additional €4.75 million in funding to support the development of an oral healthcare strategy for children up to the age of seven under Budget 2023.
With 75% of its members in private practice saying that they would find it difficult to provide treatment to this cohort, the organization expressed concerned that political responsibility for children’s oral health could fall on overstretched private practices.
It said that a lack of a proper public dental service model could lead to vulnerable children missing out on early dental intervention
In a statement today, the organisation’s president, Dr Caroline Robins, said that outsourcing the care of children to the private sector was “not the answer”.
“HSE figures show that half of the children who were due to be seen by a dentist under the school screening process in 2022 never received any form of dental check-up.
“This was purely down to a lack of staff in the public dental service,” she said.
“We know that specialist care is required when treating children and we believe that this should happen in a fully-staffed public service which ensures that all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive early intervention”.
According to Dr Robins, the retention and recruitment crisis in the sector is “largely arising from policy decisions which have placed a very low priority on properly staffing the service”.
She believes the situation “will only become a more acute issue if not urgently addressed.”
In its workforce plan for 2023, the IDA has outlined a series of recommendations on how to address staff shortages.
Proposed measures include significant investment and expansion of the country’s two dental schools at UCC and TCD, the reintroduction of mentoring schemes for recent graduates and changes to rules surrounding work permits.
“We are ready to sit down with the Government to discuss and develop the best pathway forward for everyone,” Dr Robins said.
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