The Irish Dental Association (IDA) has called for a complete modernisation of the dental scheme for medical card patients as dentists in Cork and across the country “are leaving the scheme in their droves”.
According to the association, figures obtained from the HSE show the number of dentists in Cork operating the medical card scheme stands at 257 – down from 317 in 2017.
This marks an almost 20% decrease in contracted dentists over the period.
The association says this figure stretches to 26% in Cork South Lee, covering areas like the Southern half of Cork city, Ballincollig and Carrigaline.
In Cork North Lee, which includes the Northern half of Cork city, Glanmire, Carrigtwohill, Midleton, Youghal and Macroom, there has been a 10% drop in contracted dentists whilst in North Cork, covering areas such as Millstreet, Kanturk, Charleville, Mallow, Mitchelstown and Fermoy, there has been a 35% drop in contracted dentists.
The medical card scheme, or Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS), is the HSE-contracted service that was first developed in 1994 and provides access to dental care to medical card holders.
Reimbursement levels to dentists were reduced following the financial crisis of 2008 and treatments available to medical card holders suspended or available in emergency cases only.
The IDA says this has remained unchanged in the years since, and dentists have become increasingly critical and frustrated by a scheme that they say is not reflective of modern dental practice, does not have the patient’s best interests at heart, and is completely unfit for purpose.
Cork dentist, Dr Mairead Browne said the IDA believe “modernisation, not modification” of the scheme is what is required to ensure medical card holders are adequately treated for their oral healthcare needs.
“We have never understood the rationale behind a scheme that restricts the number of preventative treatments allowed, such as fillings to save a tooth, while permitting an unlimited number of extractions.
“As a profession, we have serious moral and ethical reservations about providing such restrictive treatment to patients, despite dental medicine having advanced significantly in the years since the medical card scheme was introduced, and further since it was subjected to such brutal cuts and cutbacks in 2010.
“We cannot in good conscience operate a scheme which limits our ability to provide preventative treatments to save a tooth and limits our use of modern materials and techniques.
“As such, dentists around the country – including here in Cork – are leaving the scheme in their droves and medical card patients are finding it more and more difficult to access care in their own communities,” she continued.
Dr Browne also said the sector is facing a “recruitment and resourcing crisis” and called for “proper investment” into training dentists, dental nurses and hygienists.
The IDA recently published an independently commissioned research paper outlining an alternative proposal to the medical card scheme and continues to call on the Government to engage with it to find a sustainable solution “before the scheme reaches total collapse”.