As the Deputy is aware, the provision of orthodontic treatment services is the responsibility of the health boards-authority in the first instance.
In June 2002 my Department provided additional funding of €5 million from the treatment purchase fund towards the treatment of persons on the orthodontic waiting lists. My Department instructed the health boards-authority that the funding was to be allocated on the basis of the following principles: (i) treatment of clients longest on the waiting list in accordance with the severity of their treatment need; (ii) allocation to provide additional treatments over and above what was provided in the normal way; (iii) efficiency and value for money; and (iv) equitable delivery across health board populations.
The funding is enabling boards-authority to provide both additional sessions for existing staff and purchase treatment from private specialist orthodontic practitioners. The Eastern Regional Health Authority was allocated an additional €1.815 million from this fund for the treatment of cases in this way and this is enabling the authority to treat an additional 721 patients.
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 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 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. It will ultimately support an enhanced teaching and treatment service to the wider region under the leadership of the professor of orthodontics.
The chief executive officers of the health boards-authority have informed me that, at the end of the December quarter 2003, 21,295 children were receiving orthodontic treatment in the public orthodontic service. This means that there are over twice as many children getting orthodontic treatment as there are children waiting to be treated and 4,000 extra children are getting treatment from health boards since the end of 2001.