Dentists yesterday warned that dentures will be rationed for medical card holders in a bid to save money.
Schoolchildren with decaying teeth were being left untreated after the closure of a number of HSE-run dental clinics across the country due to a shortage of dentists, the Irish Dental Association added.
In many areas of the country the school dental service operated by the HSE can only deal with emergencies and will only treat children in pain.
The dire state of services for people entitled to free care was outlined by the association to the joint Oireachtas committee on health and children.
Rosari McCafferty, president of the association’s dental surgeons’ committee, said many dental clinics for schoolchildren had been forced close, adding: “In my own area in the north east there have been closures in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.”
“It’s an emergency service only in Cavan and Monaghan. If the child is in pain we’ll treat the tooth in pain — if the rest of the teeth are decayed, we can’t offer them a service. This is a problem countrywide. Children will needlessly lose permanent teeth because of this.”
Dr Jane Renehan, incoming president of the association and a senior HSE dental manager, said there were also indications that dentures for medical card holders would be rationed.
Dentures are a “discretionary item” on the scheme, and a dentist must get permission from the HSE before supplying them.
A set of dentures can cost up to €1,000, and, if refused, the patient will have to find the money to pay for them privately. This will not only affect older people who lose their teeth, but people of all ages whose teeth are knocked out in an accident or playing sport.
“It is often the front teeth which are missing. People in nursing homes and hospitals are always losing dentures and without them they can have problems with speech or eating,” she warned.
Chief executive Fintan Hourihan said dental services for medical card holders were in crisis. Around 34pc of dentists have dropped out of the medical card scheme, and patients can be forced to travel great distances for treatment. One dentist grievance is that they only receive €450 towards the cost of dentures, and end up subsidising the service.
Mr Hourihan added: “Significant waiting lists are now emerging . . . this is completely unacceptable.”
Medical card holders forced to pay for a service will also be hit by the Budget decision to reduce tax relief to 20pc.
Meanwhile, Dr Martin Daly of the Irish Medical Organisation told the committee the HSE is trying to save money by giving lists of medical card patients to GPs who already have large numbers on their books.
A list of several hundred patients was recently advertised in a town with no female GP for medical card holders. Although two female GPs applied for the, list it was given to a male doctor who already cared for 1,200 card holders.
– Eilish O’Regan Health Correspondent
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