Dentists to warn that medical card dental scheme is on ‘brink of collapse’

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Dentists will warn TDs and Senators tomorrow that the State’s dental scheme for medical card holders is on the “brink of collapse” and blame this on the Department of Health’s “disrespect” and “contempt for the profession”.

SE funding cuts to the scheme for medical card holders in 2010 has seen total spending on it fall as patients are not accessing it due to its fee-per-item structure, according to the Irish Dental Association.

The Chief Executive of the association, Fintan Hourihan, will tell the Oireachtas Health Committee tomorrow that it is their view that the scheme is “in crisis and on the brink of collapse”.

“The last year has seen an unprecedented number of dentists withdraw from the medical card scheme with serious repercussions for patients nationwide,” the association says in its opening statement.

“The state’s dental treatment scheme for approximately 1.5m eligible medical card patients is in crisis and on the brink of collapse.”

It will warn the Committee this is an “unprecedented crisis in dentistry” as well as in access to care for “our most vulnerable patients”.

Total spending on the scheme fell from over €63m in 2017 to €40m in 2020.

This reduction in spending is seeing large numbers of patients no longer accessing treatment and adults “can no longer access the dental care they require to maintain their dental health”.

Last year, almost one quarter of participating dentists nationwide left this scheme, according to the association, as dentists “simply cannot afford to participate, leading to complete chaos.”

Dentists will blame the Department of Health for its lack of action, saying the association has sought to engage with officials to redevelop the medical card scheme over “many years to no avail”.

Mr Hourihan will tell TDs and senators that the department has a “level of disrespect” and a “contempt” for the dentistry profession.

“Increasingly, our members believe that the refusal to acknowledge the reality of crisis within the scheme and the general approach of the Department of Health suggests a level of disrespect, if not contempt for the profession, the importance of dental and oral health and the patients who rely on this scheme for care.”

This behaviour from the Department of Health also shows “scant regard or understanding” of the impact of the current scheme on “vulnerable patients” who struggle to afford dental services.

Dentists have also taken a hit during the pandemic, as extra costs incurred by practises have raised the cost of providing care, making the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) for medical card holders “completely unviable”.

The committee will also be told that the Government is leaving dentists with “little choice” but to withdraw from, or minimise their involvement in the scheme.

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Source: Irish News