Sinn Féin TD Violet-Anne Wynne has expressed concern regarding a parliamentary question response about the number of private dentists opting into the Dental Treatment Support Scheme (DTSS).
The DTSS is the access route for medical card holders to essential dental care. Nationally, there are 1,204 private dentists signed up to the scheme.
Teachta Wynne said:
“In response to a parliamentary question I submitted questioning the numbers of dentists signed up to the DTSS, the numbers provided by the HSE are frightening.
“In January 2016 there were 1,664 dentists signed up for the scheme across the country. Fast forward to August of 2021 it had dropped to 1,204. Which means that roughly 3 in every 10 dentists have dropped out over the past 5-year period.
“This has resulted in a situation whereby in Clare, there are only 16 dentists enrolled in the DTSS scheme.
“Last month, my office researched access to the DTSS by ringing around these 16 surgeries and enquiring about whether they were taking on new medical card clients – only one of them said yes.
“And it was provisional: they said that they were only willing to take on new medical card holders if they were from that townland, nowhere else. Basically, this means that many patients cannot access dental care within this county.
“During the pandemic, and within the prevailing travel restrictions at the time, this had devastating consequences as constituents could not access either emergency or routine dental care in Clare and were not able to leave the county leaving some in highly distressing circumstances.
“I have had to refer several Clare people to a dentist based in Dooradoyle, Co. Limerick because there is simply no one taking on new patients here in Clare.
“Another issue that has been brought to my attention is the fact that dentists were expected to fund their supply of PPE throughout the pandemic period – which put them under undue financial strain, further encouraging them to opt out of the DTSS.
“Lack of access to timely dental care, and delaying necessary treatment is economically unviable as what begins as a routine procedure can lead to far most costly and complex intervention being required.
“I am calling on Minister Donnelly to invest appropriately in public dentistry in 2022. In 2020 less was spent on public dentistry than in 2001, the lowest level in 20 years. In Clare alone there has been a reduction of 46% of investment in the DTSS between 2017 and 2021 according to the Irish Dentistry Association.
“Severe cuts were made in 2010 which were never restored, and this has had devastating impacts on access to dental care, especially in rural regions such as Clare.
“In Sinn Féin’s alternative Budget 2022 we fully-costed the hiring of an additional 160 dental staff in order to properly resource public dentistry and allow rural folk access to basic primary health care services in their own communities.”