O Murchú: Vulnerable facing delays in dental treatment

The decision by some dentists to discontinue treatment for medical card holders is hitting the most vulnerable in society, according to TD Ruairí Ó Murchú, who says people in residential care are left with nowhere to go for dental treatment.

The Sinn Féin deputy is highlighting the situation where some people in residential settings in Louth were told at the start of August that their dental practices would no longer be providing ‘new’ care for medical card holders.

Dental practices have told these patients that treatment can be pursued under Louth Community Care, but Mr Ó Murchú says he understands that they are not taking patients unless it is an emergency.

This has been confirmed by the HSE, following a representation by the Dundalk TD, who told him in a statement: ‘The HSE dental service is also facing major backlogs, as a result of service restrictions during the height of Covid 19, and reduced capacity currently, due to new work processes, enhanced infection prevention and control measures, and redeployment of some dental staff.

‘If any of the patients you are representing are experiencing pain, and have difficulty accessing treatment, the HSE dental service can arrange for them to be seen as an emergency’.

A number of dentists have withdrawn from the DTSS (Dental Treatment Services Scheme) which looks after medical card holders, because of funding allocated to the scheme.

This is coupled with the high Covid-19-related costs for dentists that they believe are not sufficiently covered by the Department of Health.

A number of dentists, including some in Dundalk, have told their medical card patients that they will no longer provide treatment for them, though treatment which is currently underway will be completed.

In a statement, the HSE said there are dentists who remain in the DTSS and are willing to treat medical card patients, but Mr Ó Murchú says he is aware that patients are finding it ‘extremely difficult’ to source another dentist locally.

Mr Ó Murchú said medical card holders, particularly those with disabilities, are ‘facing the dreadful choice of having to either forgo treatment or face the burden of having to pay for dental treatment out of the €203 disability allowance they receive each week’.

He said: ‘The HSE statement acknowledges that there has been a withdrawal of dentists from the DTSS and it is the Department of Health’s intention to ‘revise’ the DTSS and ‘engage’ with the Irish Dental Association.

‘However, there seems to be little urgency about this and, in the meantime, medical card holders, including those with disabilities, are facing worry and concern in relation to their dental care.

‘While the HSE says it will facilitate patients moving to another dentist, there is no guarantee that the dentists will be local and there could be an added travel burden for those with disabilities.

‘The government is asleep on this issue – it has been flagged to them for months– and still, there is no resolution in sight.

‘In the short term, the government needs to engage dwith dentists and provide an interim solution so people are not left without care’.