The situation the Deputy has described is unacceptable. Everybody who has a medical card needs to be able to access a dentist under the dental treatment service scheme. As the Deputy has quite rightly identified, the number of dentists participating in the scheme has fallen substantially, particularly over the past two years. There was a precipitous drop in participants in 2019, 2020, 2021 and this year.
I looked at the figures for the Deputy’s county and that is seen in Wexford as well. Unfortunately, the majority of dentists who were on the scheme just three years ago – just before Covid – are no longer on the scheme. That is causing huge pressure in terms of people in Wexford who have medical cards and who are trying to find a dentist who is on the scheme.
What are we doing? There is a longer-term solution to this, which is root and branch reform of the dental treatment scheme. That is something on which the Department of Health is engaging with the representative body, namely, the Irish Dental Association. However, that is not enough because it will take time for that kind of scheme to be negotiated and implemented.
In the meantime, for this year, I have allocated a very significant amount of extra money. The forecast spend for this year would have been about €40 million for this scheme. We have increased that from €40 million to €66 million. We have increased the amount of funding into it by more than a half. That has meant two things. First, there are services available, such as scale and polish, which had been removed from the scheme, which we added back into it. More importantly for the dentists, the fees that we are paying have dramatically increased. What we would like to see and what I would ask the dentists to do is to re-engage with the scheme. We have many dentists around the country and, indeed, in Wexford who had been involved in this scheme for many years. The fees are now substantially higher and I would ask those dentists to re-engage and stay with us while we negotiate our new scheme.