Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Dental Treatment Scheme.

22.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare what steps he has taken to ensure that, where treatment under the Department's dental scheme is not available, insured persons are compensated for payment they are forced to make for necessary dental treatment.

23.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if any plans exist to recompense in whole or in part insured persons who can produce paid accounts in respect of dental treatment received during the course of the strike.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 23 together. During the recent dispute with the Irish Dental Association, which I am pleased to say is now resolved, a majority of dentists withdrew from the dental benefit scheme administered by my Department. Treatment under the scheme continued to be available, however, to qualified insured persons from a substantial number of dentists throughout the country who remained on the dental panel. I am aware that some insured persons received treatment from dentists who had withdrawn from the scheme and they were required to pay for this treatment at rates determined by the dentists. I regret that there is no statutory authority which would enable such persons to be reimbursed the cost of dental treatment received outside the scheme.

Would the Minister not agree that where these services were not available to the people involved there is an obligation to compensate them in some way? Even though there may not be a statutory obligation on the Minister is there any other way in which these people can be compensated for the inconvenience and the fact that they had to seek private treatment?

I cannot see that there is.

The Minister will appreciate that it was not their fault?

They were informed by the dentists by whom they were treated that these dentists were not on the panel at the time. We had a list of dentists which we circulated to anybody who required it. Even in cases where they might have had to travel unduly far arrangements were made for their travelling expenses which I am permitted to allow.

What was the saving to the Department as a result of this strike?

I would not say there was any saving.

Surely there must have been some saving to the Department as a result of the strike and could some of this money be used to compensate these people?

Surely the Minister can afford to pay the portion that he would have paid to dentists in normal circumstances?

Would the Minister have another look at it?

The position is that the dentists were not panel dentists and statutorily——

Surely the Minister can compensate the person? If the person paid £2 and the fee is £1 surely he can pay the person £1? He would have to get the tooth pulled if he waited long enough, would he not?

It is not a question of wanting to refuse.

Would the Minister have another look at it?

I am examining it at the moment but I cannot see any way out legally. It is much the same position as that of a person who goes to a dentist who is not on the panel today and then sends me the bill.

How are panel dentists chosen? Surely it is not by an Act of the Oireachtas?

They apply.

The Minister does it by order. Could the Minister not, therefore, make an order for the purpose of deciding that these payments be made to the dentists in question for the period of the strike?

These dentists had resigned.

I understand that but if the Minister deals with this matter by order, and it does not require legislation, the Minister has the legal power to do what he wants. Would he, therefore, do what the House would like him to do in the matter by ensuring that these people are paid at no greater cost than the State would have suffered anyway?

I appointed the dentists on the panel and to make it retrospective might be a way out. I do not know. They were not panel dentists.

The Minister can make them panel dentists if he wants to.