asked the Minister for Health if he is aware of the deplorable position that exists in County Wexford regarding the provision of dental treatment for school children and others under the Health Acts; and the steps he proposes to take to remedy the position.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - County Wexford Dental Treatment.
I would not accept that the position regarding the provision of dental treatment for school children in County Wexford should be described as deplorable. In fact, in 1976 the number of children dentally examined was nearly three times greater than the number examined in 1972, and a greater quantity of treatment was made available in 1976 than in 1972.
I know that the health board are at present recruiting replacements for three dentists who retired recently. These vacancies have already been advertised by the Local Appointments Commission and the competition should also lead to filling one extra post of dentist for Wexford. This is one of four additional posts which I sanctioned for the South-Eastern Health Board under the job creation programme provided for in the 1977 budget. I hope that these jobs will be filled within the next few months and this should enable the amount of service provided to be further extended.
Will the Minister not accept that there are no dental services in Wexford county? I am sure the same applies to all areas in the southeast in regard to schoolchildren. Three dentists have left the service, I do not know why, and apparently the health board are unable to recruit dentists. Is the Minister aware that the waiting list is so long that in the case of fillings they have become extractions before they can be dealt with? Is he aware that the waiting list for the county hospital is in the region of 300 and that only three or four minor cases can be taken each week? Have not the services completely broken down?
I would not agree that the service has broken down completely—that is more than exaggeration. I should like to see the dental services being improved but difficulties have been encountered. The Deputy said there were practically no examinations or treatment. I have not got the figures for 1977 so far but I would point out that the seven posts have been approved, for which interviews will be held, and I expect vacancies filled in the next few months will mean a big improvement. If, as the Deputy has suggested, the situation is deplorable I should like to give him some figures—I am sure he has armed himself with figures. In 1972 the number of children examined was 4,141 and in 1976 the number was 11,926. That does not bear out what the Deputy has been saying. I am as concerned as the Deputy about the position not alone since I became a member of the Government but much earlier. I appreciate the difficulties and I will try to have improvements made as quickly as possible through staff recruitment and ancillary matters.
I accept the Minister's concern and will he accept that when he quotes the figure for 1976 he is dealing with a period that was reasonably good as far as Wexford dental services are concerned? Will he further accept that since 1976 there has been complete failure in Wexford and that the services have been run down completely? Will he accept that a high South-Eastern Health Board official has stated that the position is so bad in Wexford that they are not able to give appointments to anybody?
I think I know to whom the Deputy is referring.
Will he accept that the health board are finding it impossible to recruit staff and that there must be a reason for it?
I gave the Deputy the figures in regard to the number of children examined in 1972. That was before I had responsibility and when the Deputy had partial responsibility as a member of the Government party. The figure has improved from 4,141 in 1972 to 11,926 in 1976. The figure for extractions in regard to children improved from 15,897 to more than 17,000 in the same period. That improvement does not satisfy me.
Would the Minister say why dentists are not staying in the service? Is it not because the remuneration is better outside?
That may be.
The Deputy is raising another matter.