Medical card holders in Louth are facing difficulty accessing dental care due to a large number of dentists leaving a scheme that provides free dental care due to issues with lack of PPE and state fees.
Two-thirds of dentists in Louth and Meath who were involved in the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTTS) are expected to have left the scheme between 2019 and the end of 2021, according to the HSE.
According to Des O’Flynn, Chief Officer with the Midlands Louth Meath Community Healthcare Organisation, the number of dentists participating in the scheme in 2019 was 61 and is expected to drop to 21 by the end of the year.
“In Louth and Meath there has been a reduction in the numbers of participating dental contractors from 61 in 2019 to an estimated 21 contractors remaining by the end of this year based on the current number of dentists who have indicated their intention to resign,” said Mr O’Flynn, in correspondence with Fine Gael TD for Louth, Fergus O’Dowd.
He said that medical card holders are facing issues receiving dental care due to the lack of participating dentists, but also by the fact that many who are part of the scheme are not taking on new patients.
Mr O’Flynn said that the HSE cannot make changes to the scheme unilaterally and that they need permission from the Department of Health.
According to Mr O’Flynn, the Louth Meath HSE Dental Service has worked to provide information and assistance to patients who are seeking dental care from DTSS providers, but that requests have become more frequent as they fail to access care.
“More recently, these requests from patients have become more frequent as many fail to access care and in many cases there is no option of redirecting patients to alternative DTSS contractors due the ever increasing resignations from the scheme,” said Mr O’Flynn.
Current guidelines only allow for the HSE Dental Service to provide emergency care to those who cannot access a DTSS dentist.
“We are mindful that arrangements for an emergency dental service for adults should take full account of the need to protect services for children and adults requiring special care.
“However, if necessary the HSE will need to prioritise their services to provide a minimum of emergency care to all eligible patients.
“This will inevitably have a significant impact on the special needs and children’s dental service in Louth and Meath, a service that already has significant backlogs due to the reduction in capacity with new Covid-19 work practices, extensive redeployment of Dental Staff during the pandemic and the difficulty at present in recruiting Dental Surgeons in Ireland.”
In response to a parliamentary question by Deputy O’Dowd on the issue of DTSS dentists in Louth and Meath, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that it was “regrettable” that so many dentists opted to leave the scheme.
“It is regrettable that a significant number of dentists chose to leave the Scheme that provides care for medical card patients during the pandemic, which has led to difficulties for medical card patients in accessing dental care in some parts of the country,” said Minister Donnelly.
He said that there had been engagement between the Department, the HSE and dentists on issues like infection control throughout the pandemic.
He added that there needed to be an alignment of the DTSS with international best practice, and that such an alignment had been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have given a commitment to a substantive review of the DTSS, which will include fees paid to dentists. I have also acknowledged the immediate issues of concern with current arrangements under the Scheme.
“I instructed my officials to hold talks with the Irish Dental Association to address both of these issues. I am aware that preliminary talks were held in June this year and that it is proposed to hold further talks in the coming weeks.”
Mr Donnelly also said that there was an additional €10 million allocated to the DTSS scheme in Budget 2022, on top of €56 million.
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