COVID-19 is causing a resourcing crisis in public service dentistry in Ireland.
This is according to Dr Anne O’Neill, the incoming president of the Irish Dental Association (IDA). She says the pandemic has sparked a lag in important dental services in Ireland.
The provision of public service dentistry was a ’cause for concern’ prior to the pandemic, she says. But now it has transformed into a ‘full-blown crisis’.
According to an IDA members’ survey, between 25% and 40% of skilled staff within the HSE Community Dental Service have been assigned to help with testing and contact tracing.
However, these individuals have not been replaced.
‘As a result, the vital needs of our patients simply cannot be met,’ she said.
‘Usually we would be starting assessments for the new school year at this time. But because of COVID-19 we have a large backlog from last year and are well behind on reaching our target class population.
‘Without the requisite skilled staff and additional resources we cannot make up that gap. And the opportunity to identify problems early is permanently lost.’
The virus has also had an indirect impact on the delivery of services.
Urgent plan needed
‘COVID-19 has slowed the process of providing dental care in many aspects, reducing the number of patients which can be seen in the day,’ she added.
‘We need to conduct a public health risk assessment before every dental treatment, which impacts on every single appointment. And adds greatly to dentists’ workflow.
‘These are experienced dentists who have specialist skills and knowledge of treating children and people with special needs.
‘We cannot simply replace them overnight. We urgently need a detailed resourcing plan from the government if we are to provide patients with the care they need.’
Dr O’Neill calls for a number of actions to help save the future of public service dentistry. She believes skilled staff need to move back to their original roles, alongside additional staff. This is to help treat the child and adult patients who rely on the service.
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