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Dentists seek urgent meeting with Donnelly over claims government failed to deliver promised PPE

In recent months, dentists have warned of the strain their industry is under due to Covid-19.

Image: David Tadevosian/Shutterstock

DENTISTS ARE SEEKING an “urgent meeting” with Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly over what they claim is a failure to honour a commitment made by his predecessor Simon Harris to supply them with personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Irish Dental Association said that patients are finding it harder to get an appointment since re-opening as dentists have had to reduce the number they see each day by up to a third.

These problems are being exacerbated by the increased costs for PPE and “enhanced environmental cleaning”, according to the IDA.

Its president-elect Dr Anne O’Neill said then-Minister for Health Simon Harris agreed to supply PPE to dentists in a meeting on Friday 8 May.

“However that promise has not yet been honoured, no alternative support for the additional Covid-related processes have been put forward by the Department and the new Minister has yet to meet with the IDA to hear our concerns about the impact of the crisis on patients seeking dental care,” she said.

This criticism of the Department of Health comes following a turbulent few months for the industry since the arrival of the pandemic, as many surgeries closed their doors.

In March, the IDA said urgent supports were needed as many practices were on “the brink of collapse” amid the coronavirus crisis.

At that time, it said the profession was “disintegrating” as dentists cannot practice under guidelines around social distancing and that dentists had been left in the dark as to what was expected of them in the current situation.

The following month, it accused the government of “ignoring the effective collapse of the dental profession in Ireland”, as the Covid-19 crisis continues to lead to widespread dental practice closures and redundancies.

In a letter to Ministers Simon Harris and Paschal Donohoe, IDA chief executive Fintan Hourihan said he could not overstate the “sense of despair and panic in the dental profession” at present.

He said: “In normal times, 83% of spending on dentistry is out of pocket rather than paid for by the State – now, dentists’ incomes are down by over 90% on average during the Covid-19 pandemic as routine dentistry has been prohibited and emergency care cannot be provided in many cases due to unavailable or overly expensive PPE and other requirements.”

In early May, around 80% of a survey of 329 private dentists reported a high or a very high risk to the future of their practices because of the pandemic. A further 86% of practices said they had to lay off staff.

Dr O’Neill said an urgent meeting with Minister Donnelly is now necessary to discuss the concerns of the industry.

She also warned that dentists were serving notice of their resignation from the Dental Treatment Services Scheme for Medical Card Holders.

It entitles holders to a free dental examination each year, as well as any extractions that are required. 

Two fillings are free in each calendar year while root canal treatment is also available each year for teeth at the front of the mouth under the scheme.

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Dr O’Neill said: “The DTSS is not fit for purpose. The original contract was a collaboration between the Department, IDA and the Health services to provide basic dental care to medical card holders. 

The current version of the contract is under resourced, restrictive to the point that patients can’t access the care they need and, as currently structured, it supports the extraction of teeth rather than their retention. Individual dentists are serving notice to resign from the scheme which will mean that patients will have to travel further and wait longer for dental care.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Health said that the regular PPE which is already used routinely in dental practices, should suffice.

A spokesperson said: “The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has advised that regular PPE, which has always been used by dentists, is generally sufficient for routine dentistry. This is supported by the Dental Council which has indicated that dentists should take a case by case assessment when deciding if additional PPE is warranted.”

The Department of Health and the HSE are examining the issue of PPE provision across all parts of the health service including health service contractors, the spokesperson said.

Separately, the spokesperson said that no patients have been left without a service after a “small number of dentists” served notice they would be leaving the DTSS.

The spokesperson added: “The Minister has received an invitation to attend the IDA’s AGM in September and will respond shortly. Officials in the Department are engaging with the Irish Dental Association on these and other matters on an ongoing basis.”

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Sean Murray

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