As the Deputy is aware, the provision of orthodontic services is a matter for the health boards 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. In 2003, my Department and the health boards funded 13 dentists from various health boards for specialist in orthodontics qualifications at training programmes in Ireland and 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 in 2001. Thus, there is an aggregate of 19 dentists in specialist training for orthodontics. 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.
Furthermore, the commitment of the Department to training development is manifested in the funding provided to both the training of specialist clinical staff and the recruitment of a professor in orthodontics for the Cork Dental School. This appointment at the school will facilitate the development of an approved training programme leading to specialist qualification in orthodontics. The chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board has reported that the professor commenced duty on 1 December 2003. In recognition of the importance of this post at Cork Dental School, my Department has given approval in principle to a proposal from the school to further substantially improve the training facilities there for orthodontics. This project should see the construction of a large orthodontic unit and support facilities and will ultimately support an enhanced teaching and treatment service to the wider region under the leadership of the professor of orthodontics.
Orthodontic initiative funding of €4.698 million was provided to the health boards-authority in 2001. 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.
The chief executive officers of the health boards-authority have informed me that at the end of the September quarter 2003, there were 20,784 children receiving orthodontic treatment in the public orthodontic service. This means that more than twice as many children are receiving orthodontic treatment as there are children waiting to be treated, and nearly 3,500 extra children have been receiving treatment from health boards since the end of 2001.