As the Deputy is aware, the provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons is the responsibility of the health boards-authority in the first instance. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that I have taken a number of measures to improve orthodontic services on a national basis.
The grade of specialist in orthodontics has been created in the health board orthodontic service. This year, my Department and the health boards are funding 13 dentists from various health boards for specialist in orthodontics qualifications at training programmes in Ireland and at three separate universities in the United Kingdom. These 13 trainees for the public orthodontic service are additional to the six dentists who commenced their training last year and one dentist whose specialist training is nearing completion. Thus there is an aggregate of 20 public service dentists in training for specialist in orthodontics qualifications. These measures will complement the other structural changes being introduced into the orthodontic service, including the creation of an auxiliary grade of orthodontic therapist to work in the orthodontic area.
Orthodontic initiative funding of €4.698 million was provided to the health boards/authority in 2001 and this has enabled health boards to recruit additional staff, engage the services of private specialist orthodontic practitioners to treat patients and build additional orthodontic facilities.
In June 2002, my Department provided additional funding of €5 million from the treatment purchase fund to health boards specifically for the purchase of orthodontic treatment. This funding is enabling boards to provide both additional sessions for existing staff and purchase treatment from private specialist orthodontic practitioners. This scheme has also enabled some boards to make arrangements for the treatment of cases by private specialist orthodontic practitioners from Northern Ireland.
The chief executive officers of the health boards-authority have informed me of the following information on their orthodontic waiting lists as at the end of the March 2003 quarter, which is detailed in the table following: