Dental recruitment embargo ‘ludicrous’ – Sinn Féin

Around 100,000 children are unable to get the dental treatment they need due to a “ridiculous” recruitment ban imposed by the government, according to Sinn Féin.

Speaking in the Dáil, the party's finance spokesman said the number of public dentists had fallen by 23 per cent over the past 15 years, while the number of dentists processing health cards had also “dropped sharply” from 1,600 about eight years ago to 800 today. .

Pearse Doherty said if parents were unable to afford private healthcare, the consequences for children were tooth loss, pain, school absences and negative social impact.

He said the HSE had said in a letter to Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane that the government-ordered recruitment embargo “does not allow us” to appoint more staff.

In effect, he believes, the government is punishing families who mismanage health services.

Pearse Doherty said in a letter to the HSE that the government-ordered recruitment embargo “does not allow us” to appoint more staff

In his reply, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said the government “absolutely accepts” the request to provide dental services for young people.

He described it as a “key priority”, adding that an additional €15 million in core funding and €17 million in one-off funding had been made available since 2019 to address the backlog.

Mr McConalogue said 2,000 people would have been taken off the orthodontic waiting list by 2023.

Turning to the wider health service, McConnello said funding had increased by 50 per cent in the past “four or five years” and 28,000 new staff had been hired.

He said the government recognized the need for increased funding to tackle dental issues, which was a matter of “particular concern” to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

The Irish Dental Association says more than 100,000 children were refused dental screening appointments in primary schools last year.

The report said that while 208,233 children were eligible for the scheme, only 104,488 were assessed by a public dentist.

Some of the children first met in middle school.

The association said government policy recommended primary school children visit a dentist in second, fourth and sixth grades.

The IDA says the root of the problem is a shortage of public dentists, with the number falling by 23% between 2006 and 2022.

It added that 74 more dentists would be needed to return to 2009 staffing levels.

Fintan Hourihan, the association's chief executive, said the HSE had failed in its duty to provide adequate care for patients under the Health Act.

He said: “There is huge uncertainty about the service as the government appears to be suggesting that children should be seen by private dentists, with 90 per cent saying that in fact the priority should be to re-establish public dental services.”

The association is holding its annual conference in Killarney.

In response to a question put to parliament by Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane, the HSE said it was unable to appoint any dental staff at non-consultant level due to a recruitment ban.

A “golden opportunity” to prevent tooth decay in young children is being missed as many people miss primary school appointments, the incoming chair of a group of general dentists has said.

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Caroline Robbins said tooth decay is not like a broken arm, where once it occurs it takes a lifetime of effort.

“From the outset, we have the ability to protect these teeth, prevent further problems, and educate parents and children on how best to teach them to take good care of their teeth going forward,” she said.

She told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the number of children who missed primary school dental appointments last year was probably higher than the estimated 100,000.

Ms Robbins said dental schools needed significant investment and called on the government to increase funding and the number of dentists, dental nurses and hygienists trained each year.

In response, the HSE said children will be examined at ages corresponding to dental development milestones to identify opportunities for timely preventive intervention.

It added that an additional 47,806 checks were carried out last year on children enrolled in the emergency dental care scheme.

The HSE said the IDA data does not include dental treatment and/or preventive care provided after a dental check-up.

In response, the company said it provided more than 72,000 fillings, 43,000 extractions and 359,000 preventive treatments to patients enrolled in the service last year.

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