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HSE underspent on dental care by €11.5m last year

Dentists are furious at new figures which showed that the HSE had budgeted €63m for dental care, but only spent €51.5m.

Image: Rui Vieira/PA Archive

THE UNION representing Irish dentists has attacked the Health Service Executive after publishing new figures which indicated that the HSE had underspent its budget for dental care for medical card holders last year.

The Irish Dental Union claims the figures, which were produced internally by the HSE, showed that although the HSE had allocated €63 million to dental care for medical card holders in 2011, it had only spent €51.5 million of that amount.

The union’s chief executive Fintan Hourihan said the HSE’s decision to withhold some of its planned spending “cannot be justified”, particularly given how the HSE’s own budget had been “totally inadequate” for the last two years.

“Last year the number of medical card holders increased by 63,000 but instead of increasing spending the HSE decided to underspend by €11.5m. This means that the HSE spent €28m less on the scheme in 2011 than it did in 2010,” he said.

“To cut a scheme which is already on its knees is a scandal and the Minister for Health has to explain how this occurred.”

The HSE figures showed that 450,000 fewer dental treatments had been performed under the medical scheme in 2011, with 233,000 fewer fillings, 37,000 fewer gum treatments and 22,000 fewer X-rays than in 2010.

There were also 161,000 fewer ‘scale and polish’ cleaning procedures, and 10,000 fewer oral exams – meaning that less than a quarter of Ireland’s 1.3 million medical card holders took up their right to a free oral exam every year.

The IDU claims the underspend on dental treatment presents a time bomb for the HSE, arguing that the dental care of around one million people could deteriorate in the coming years.

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“Irish dentists know that these issues will return to haunt us in the next couple of years at a much higher cost in both human and financial terms. Because of this our members have no confidence or faith in the HSE to deal with this crisis,” Hourihan said.

The IDU has called on health minister James Reilly to launch an immediate investigation into the underspend.

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Gavan Reilly

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