Children at risk following dental clinic’s closure

The sudden closure of a HSE-run dental clinic that treated thousands of children needing multiple extractions has exposed them to greater risk, says the Irish Dental Association.

The IDA said the clinic at St James’s Hospital, Dublin, should not have ceased without arranging alternative facilities.

The clinic had been providing dental care to around 3,000 children a year, most aged between five and seven years old.

The HSE said the clinic ceased this month because of problems with the suitability of the building.

The health authority said it was looking for an alternative location for the service, which was expected to resume early next year.

It said urgent cases needing immediate treatment due to pain or swelling were being dealt with “as necessary” at private centres in Dublin at no cost to the families.

One of the children affected by the closure is Sinead McCrory’s daughter, Ailbhe Duggan, 6, who was referred to St James’s Hospital Dental Clinic from her local HSE clinic in Clondalkin.

Ailbhe’s appointment to have three teeth extracted under general anaesthetic in August was cancelled two days before the procedure was due to take place. The HSE told Ms McCrory it would contact her in two to three weeks’ time with a new appointment.

Nine weeks later, and with Ailbhe starting to feel sporadic pain, Ms McCrory was told waiting lists were huge and she should go back to her local clinic.

The local clinic said the HSE would not arrange to have the teeth extracted until her daughter was in a lot of pain.

Ms McCrory got a call from the HSE this week telling her how to spot swelling, and the HSE worker said it were dealing with urgent cases in private hospitals and putting others on a waiting list — Ailbhe was on a waiting list and the HSE was trying to put something in place for the New Year.

The Irish Dental Association said St James’s clinic was open on a temporary basis in 2003 and the HSE knew for years that a permanent facility was needed. The association’s chief executive, Fintan Hourihan, said the closure was the latest in a series of stealth cuts being applied to an already depleted HSE dental service.

It is estimated that between 8,000-10,000 children need to be admitted to hospital each year for dental treatments under general anaesthesia.

Mr Hourihan said delays and waiting times were growing all the time, exposing children to unacceptable risks. The IDA believes the closure of St James’s clinic and access to operating theatres needs to be addressed in the HSE’s plan for 2015.

This problem and many other concerns about inadequate funding, including the 20% reduction in the number of dentists employed by the HSE in recent years was raised by the IDA during a recent meeting with the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar.

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