Concerns over plans to outsource child dental care to private sector

The Irish Dental Association is calling on Government to abandon plans which could see child dental care move from a targeted public dental service model to a system where children are only seen if they attend a private dental practice.

As part of Budget 2023, the Government announced funding to support the development of new prevention-focused oral healthcare for children aged from birth to seven years. However, dentists are concerned that this may be an attempt to shift political responsibility for children’s oral health away from the public service into already overstretched private practices with the onus placed on parents.

75% of IDA members say that they would find it difficult or very difficult to deliver such a service as proposed and believe an adequately staffed and properly funded public dental service is the most appropriate way to ensure that all children receive early dental intervention – regardless of socioeconomic background.

Dentists say that it is unacceptable that the Minister for Health would make a decision to push the care of children fully into the private sector rather than addressing the critical staffing shortage within our public dental service.

HSE figures show that the number of public-only dentists has dropped by almost one quarter (23%) over the past 15 years, down from 330 in 2006 to 254 in 2022. At a minimum, the HSE would need to hire 76 dentists immediately to bring the service back to the levels it was 15 years ago.

The Irish Dental Association is today launching its strategic workforce plan 2023, which outlines a number of recommendations on how to address the staffing crisis in both the public and private sectors.

Measures include significant investment and expansion of the two dental schools at UCC and TCD , the reintroduction of a Foundation Training Scheme to facilitate new graduates in gaining experience in a mentored environment and changes to rules surrounding work permits.

Speaking to the growing staffing crisis on ‘The Whole Tooth’ podcast, President of the Irish Dental Association, Caroline Robins said:

“A dental practice is only as good as the staff that it has within its four walls and it’s important for any practice that we have sufficient numbers of staff so we can look after our patients in both a timely and safe manner.”

“HSE figures show that half of the children who were due to be seen by a dentist under the school screening process in 2022 never received any form of dental check-up. This was purely down to a lack of staff in the public dental service.

“However, outsourcing children’s oral healthcare to an already understaffed and overstretched private sector is not the answer. Private practices across the country are already struggling to recruit new staff with two-thirds of vacancies remaining unfilled.

“Within our workforce plan, we have identified a number of measures that, through meaningful consultation, collaboration and effective cooperation, can alleviate what will only become a more acute issue if not urgently addressed. We are ready to sit down with Government to discuss and develop the best pathway forward for everyone.”