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News / February 4, 2009

IDA pursues profession

by Guy Hiscott

Representatives of the Irish Dental Association (IDA) met with the Joint Committee on Health and Children on 29 January to present the dental profession’s views regarding the current oral health situation across the county.

Speaking at the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Fintan Hourihan, CEO of the IDA, initially focused on the problems being experienced with the medical card scheme, stating: ‘It is no exaggeration to suggest we are seeing a crisis in community care for patients…. Some 1,500 adults are waiting to be treated in Sligo. The number of dentists in County Meath who participate in the medical card scheme decreased from 36 to seven over a short period of time. Such developments reflect the State’s inability to fund this service properly’.

Mr Hourihan went on to tell the Committee that difficulties had arisen because it is considered that a review of the system with the IDA might contravene the Competition Act 2003.

Also on the agenda was the issue of State funding made available to dentists. The IDA believes that the level of funding provided to general medical practitioners is entirely appropriate and called for steps to be taken ‘to bring funding for dentists to a similar level, at least’.

Touching on the Budget decision reducing tax relief on dental work for higher bracket tax payers, this led Mr Hourihan to note that: ‘The Government recently decided to amend the Competition Act to enable the Irish Medical Organisation to represent general practitioners in negotiations with the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health and Children. The same principle of partnership should be applied to enable the Irish Dental Association to engage directly with the HSE and the Department’.

Emphasising the IDA’s desire to be involved in future plans made by the HSE, Mr Hourihan stated: ‘We would welcome an opportunity to engage with the HSE on the provision of more extensive care for greater numbers of patients through investment, innovation and reform. The IDA wishes to be involved in discussions – our door will always be open’.

Referring to orthodontic services, it was acknowledged that a review of the regulation of the profession is needed. The IDA is ready to engage in constructive talks with the Oireachtas to develop legislation that is appropriate and relevant.

Dr Rosarii McCaffrey, a public dental surgeon, addressed the points raised by the Committee concerning the school dental programme. She said: ‘Currently there is inequity throughout the country in the service that is being provided. In some counties we have very few dentists to treat children. That is why certain groups are not getting called for their normal school screenings.’

The Committee was also told of the waiting lists for orthodontic treatment, with some children in the southern region having to wait four years. Dr Ciara Scott, an orthodontist, said: ‘The HSE orthodontic service has suffered from recruitment freezes and budget cuts in the same way as other services.

‘We can envisage that with the tax relief changes that have been introduced and with uncertain times ahead for parents, the public orthodontic service will be put under enormous pressure and waiting list times will possibly be affected by that.’

General dental practitioner, Dr Maurice Quirke, fielded queries concerning the growing trend of patients looking to go abroad for cheaper treatment. He commented: ‘We all know that the best person from whom to receive one’s dental, medical, pharmaceutical or any other treatment is a local provider because, if anything goes awry, it can be dealt with expediently.

Dr Quirke went on to say: ‘While we always encourage patients to shop around for treatment, they must be sure that they are getting appropriate treatment.’

The next step in furthering the issues raised in this forum is a meeting between Professor Drumm of the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children in March. The chairman suggested that following this meeting it might be beneficial for the Committee to meet with the IDA once again to assist with pursuing the dental agenda.