A parent in Auckland says it was “beyond frustrating” trying for five months to get a free dental appointment for her preschooler.
The number of children who have missed their free routine dental checks in Auckland due to Covid-19 restrictions has hit an all-time high and health authorities are warning it will take more than a year to catch up.
Parent Katrina said her local community dental clinic in West Auckland was still temporarily closed.
“It’s always been a chase, I have to call them a few times,” she said.
“I would call and say we haven’t been seen in a year, we need to get our medicals done and I would be told they are only prioritizing at risk kids so we don’t see any. ‘others.”
Her three-year-old was due for a check-up in December and she said it took months of persistent calls to get an appointment at another clinic.
“I just want that annual checkup, so it’s frustrating to have the situation where you ring and ring and ask for an appointment but they’re just not available.”
She had considered paying for a private dentist and would consider it in the future.
The Auckland Regional Dental Service (ARDS) said it is prioritizing dental appointments for children in pain, those who have been assessed for treatment and those waiting the longest.
It said it has a vacancy rate of 14% for therapists and dental assistants and 19% for dentists.
The ARDS runs an annual recruitment drive to attract graduates, but it said this year the pool of graduates was very small.
Service director Tim Wood said the main priority was to reopen clinics after Covid-19 restrictions and extend opening hours where possible.
“We ask the staff to do the extra clinics as part of overtime. We have to balance that with the staff, we don’t want to burn them out and then have problems later. We have to manage the workforce in a way appropriate around it,” he said.
“It is sometimes difficult for the civil service to retain staff and many tend, after a year or two, to turn to the private sector because working conditions may be better.”
The service provides free community dental care to children and adolescents in the greater Auckland area, up to the age of 12 or 13.