Patients are travelling “unprecedented distances” to access dental treatments under a scheme for medical card holders, dentists have warned, while an invitation to meet with the Department of Health and the HSE to find solutions for the issue is still not forthcoming.
Irish Dental Association CEO Fintan Hourihan said members were “at a complete loss” as to why indications that health officials would soon invite the organisation for talks had not yet been acted upon, after it was again mentioned in the Dáil this week.
“We’re absolutely open,” he said. “We’re at a complete loss. It’s clear the scheme is unfit for purpose. It’s inexplicable to us why there’s a delay.”
Under the scheme, adult medical card holders can access a range of dental services and treatments such as an examination, two fillings in each calendar year and extractions as necessary.
However, it has been acknowledged that less and less dentists are operating under the scheme with many feeling it’s not viable to remain on it. The situation has become more acute over the past two years, with dentists saying the “failed” scheme for medical card holders must be replaced by a “fundamentally new approach”.
The issue was raised in the Dáil late on Thursday night by Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North-West Michael Moynihan. He said many constituents with medical cards had raised the issue with him, saying that they were unable to get seen by a dentist under the scheme.
Junior Health Minister Anne Rabbitte said that Minister Stephen Donnelly was “acutely aware” that this has become an “ever-increasing problem during the pandemic”. “The problem is that too many dentists that are contracted by the HSE to treat medical care patients have chosen to leave the scheme,” she said.
Ms Rabbitte said that some parts of the country have been particularly affected, which is also a concern. “The Minister has listened to the dentists and the Irish Dental Association and has heard their frustrations with the scheme,” she said.
She said the minister “does not disagree” with their views on the matter. The junior minister said that department officials and the HSE will invite the Irish Dental Association in for further talks, with a view to finding “immediate solutions for the benefit of patients and the dental community”.
She also said a root-and-branch review of the scheme would begin early in the new year.
Mr Moynihan said he feared the words “early in the new year” and added: “The urgency of this matter does not merit waiting until the new year or four, five or six weeks for serious engagement with the Irish Dental Association to take place.”
Mr Hourihan added he was aware TDs are being inundated with calls from constituents on the matter. “When we do get to sit down with [the Department and HSE], we’ll tell them more of the same won’t suffice,” he said. “A new approach is required.”