Risk to dental services for medical card holders, claim dentists

Senan Hogan

Reporter:

Senan Hogan

Feuding Midlands dentists resolve differences in the High Court

FILE PHOTO

The Irish Dental Association (IDA) has said that dental treatment in Kildare and West Wicklow for medical card holders is in “complete chaos”, warning that the unprecedented number of dentists withdrawing from the outdated Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) is having serious repercussions for patients.

Between 2017 and 2020, State spending on dental care for medical card patients in the Kildare / West Wicklow local health office area decreased by 39%, from €2,283,275.94 to €1,397,594.02.

Concurrently, the number of DTSS contracts held by dentists in the area fell by 10%, from 68 to 61 between March 2017 and January 2021.

The DTSS provides access to limited dental treatment for adult medical card holders. The IDA believes members should individually consider courses of action that are open to them.

Speaking today, local dentist Dr Gillian Smith said that the fall in funding and participating dentists in the area was hugely damaging for patients and reflected a nationwide trend.

She commented: “In 2020, almost one quarter of participating dentists nationwide left the scheme which is utterly unfit for purpose. Dentists simply cannot afford to participate.”

She said that the nature of the medical card crisis in dentistry was unprecedented in scale and dentists were disillusioned with the Government’s lack of action on the matter. “We have sought to engage with the Department of Health to modify this scheme over many years to no avail.  Increasingly, our members believe that the refusal to acknowledge this reality and the general approach of the Department of Health suggests a level of disrespect, if not contempt, for medical card patients in Kildare and West Wicklow and the dentists contracted to care for them. It also shows scant regard or understanding of the impact of this crisis on vulnerable patients who are unable to afford access to vital dental care.”

Dr Smith said that significant extra costs being incurred by general dental practices during the Covid-19 pandemic are making the existing DTSS contracted service completely unviable.

“Dentists want to be able to provide care for medical card patients, but the Government is leaving them with little choice but to minimise their involvement or withdraw."

Because of the drop-off in funding and dentists’ participation, she said that medical card patients were now faced with:

  • Delays while seeking treatment;
  • Increased travel times while seeking that treatment; and
  • Possible reliance on the already underfunded public dental service to provide care in areas where DTSS contracts are not in place.

The IDA is the representative body for 2,000 dentists (public and private) practising in Ireland.