Over a quarter of dentists in the south east who had been involved in the Dental Treatment Services Scheme have withdrawn because of the issue over funding which is currently receiving so much media and public attention.
Of 130 practitioners in the region who are members of the Irish Dental Association, about 110 signed up to the scheme and an estimated 30 of those have now dropped out, according to New Ross dentist Maurice Quirke, who is national chairman of the GP’s group within the IDA. The association represents about 80 pc of dentists in the area.
Mr. Quirke vehemently contradicted claims by the Health Service Executive that there were sufficient dentists currently operating within the scheme to meet demand and, secondly, that the HSE was legally precluded under the Competition Act from negotiating with the IDA on the scheme’s fee element. “Our legal advice is to the contrary”, he said.
The HSE, while acknowledging the withdrawal of some dentists, maintains that a substantial number of new contracts have also been agreed, resulting in the overall reduction in those operating the scheme being “relatively small”. And, says the Executive, where discrepancies in service have occurred, it has ensured that emergency needs continued to be met.
But Mr. Quirke said that while the south east was not worst affected (Cork is), the fact was that public patients who should be treated under the scheme were facing long delays. Under the terms of the scheme patients had to be approved for treatment and applications were to be processed within 30 days. Instead it was taking several months and there was an obvious, consequential negative effect for intended beneficiaries.
“The problem from the outset was that there was insufficient funding to meet the cost of the shopping basket and that shortfall must be addressed”, he asserted.
He said the HSE’s excuse for non-negotiation on legal grounds was a mistake and he called on them to admit that now and engage in talks to settle the dispute.
Meanwhile, in a statement on the subject, Labour’s Seanad Spokesperson on Health, Senator Phil Prendergast from South Tipperary, said it was the most vulnerable, including children, who would suffer. “Once again HSE cutbacks are hitting patients”, he complained.
He urged the HSE and the IDA to engage in discussions and find a resolution.