Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Dental Health Board Service.

1.

asked the Minister for Health the developments, if any, he intends for this year to provide a routine dental health board service; and the financial resources which have been earmarked for this purpose.

The Deputy will be aware that due to my concern at the level of operation of health board dental services generally last year I set up a small working group under the chairmanship of my colleague Deputy Terry Leyden, Minister of State at my Department, to examine the situation and, where appropriate, to come up with proposals for improving the service. As a follow-up to the working group's report, which was released last December, I have recently asked the health boards to let me have certain information in relation to adult and children's dental services and in relation to orthodontic treatment requirements so that the precise financial implications of a programme of improvements can be ascertained.

Would the Minister admit that there is no routine adult dental treatment service for medical card holders, except in the Eastern Health Board area where there is a waiting list of 16,000? Would he also acknowledge that the report of his Minister of State — to which he has referred — states that the health boards are failing in their statutory obligations under the provisions of the 1970 Act to provide a dental service for those people?

I have no difficulty in accepting that the dental service provided for public patients is inadequate. However, I do not accept that, in every area, there is not a service available to adults in need of it. I would point out that this has been the case for a long number of years. Indeed, when I occupied the benches now occupied by Deputy Yates I made the very same point. It was because of my concern I established a small working group. We are now endeavouring to ascertain in what way we can implement the recommendations of that working group.

Will the Minister assure the House that there will be any improvement effected in the position that we all agree is appalling this year? Will there be any referral service introduced this year, or is it next year about which the Minister is talking?

I am awaiting information from the health boards. I might add that, in relation to specialist dental treatment, I requested the assistant chief dental officer in my Department to work with the Eastern Health Board to ascertain whether it would be possible to have specialist treatment provided on a priority basis in the Dental Hospital for those in need of it.