THE HSE is under increasing pressure to provide more dental care after it emerged that 3,148 children in Clare are waiting for routine dental appointments, writes Dan Danaher.
Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne claimed the HSE was failing Clare’s children under the Health Act by not giving them their legal right to routine dental screening in primary schools.
The Sinn Féin MP has urged the government to take urgent action against the “unacceptable” figures.
“The HSE is not providing adequate dental screening for primary school children and is letting children down under the Health Act.
“In Clare, an estimated 3,148 children are waiting for routine dental appointments.
“Failure to provide this important health care risks serious harm to the health of children. These figures are totally unacceptable and reveal a growing crisis in dental care for children.
Before Covid, reports from the Irish Dental Association (IDA) indicated that an increasing number of children were only offered dental checkups and treatment for the first time in sixth grade – instead of first, second, fourth and sixth grades, the underlined TD.
“This situation has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid. The system was already under enormous pressure and it only increased,” she said.
Sinn Fein TD highlighted the strong links between good oral health and good physical health, and said it was vital the HSE developed a contingency plan so that children could receive this vital service.
She said the dental treatment services program was not receiving enough funding, leaving many people starving, especially in rural areas like Clare.
His call coincided with confirmation that the HSE Dental Service is struggling to recruit dental surgeons, which is also impacting the level of service delivery.
This is a problem that affects both public and private dental services. However, the HSE is in the process of filling a vacant long-term dental position at the Shannon Health Centre.
HSE Mid West Community Health Care Dental Services provide school dental checks for primary school children in Clare in Years Two and Six at school.
Children visit HSE dental clinics for dental check-ups and any routine treatment needed to be carried out.
As a direct result of Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines, HSE Mid West Community Healthcare Dental Services had no choice but to postpone routine screening for much of 2020 and into 2021. At that time, HSE dental clinics were limited to an emergency department only.
In addition, an HSE spokesperson stressed that the continued need to adhere to public health guidelines continues to have a direct impact on clinic capacity and appointment scheduling.
Since the resumption of school dental checks, the priority has been to offer appointments to children whose appointments have been postponed following the pandemic.
The senior dental surgeon has confirmed that children are called to clinics in the order in which they were to be called before Covid-19.
This means that the children are older when they are called for their dental examination at school. Screening of children who were in second and sixth grade during the 2019/20 school year was completed in September 2021.
Approximately 1,100 children from these classes in 2020/21 were called for screening between September and December 2021 and another 2,170 children from this school year will be called for screening over the coming months.
All children in these classes whose parents have completed and returned a consent form have already been invited or will be invited to a date.
The HSE Mid West Community Healthcare dental service will continue to work the waitlist in this manner.
It should be noted that these figures refer to routine screening of the target classes only and do not include children and adults with special medical and dental needs who are also referred for regular dental examinations.
Between September and December 2021, another 427 patients were seen for emergency appointments.
These appointments are given when a parent/guardian calls to report that their child is in pain, and usually take place on the day of that call.