One of the greatest scandals in our health services is the lack of orthodontic treatment for the great majority of Irish citizens. Since I was elected to this House I have received countless complaints from the anxious parents of teenagers and from teenagers themselves. I found the progress made by the Department of Health and the health boards to be inexplicably slow or at times non-existent.
Orthodontic treatment is accessible only to the rich and better off families. Working parents, the unemployed and their children are effectively told to get lost again and again by the Eastern Health Board and particularly those in my area of the north side of Dublin. There is the charade of categories one. two and three waiting lists in the Eastern Health Board Region. Being placed on categories two, three or further down is a polite way to fob off parents and their teenageers. It is frustrating.
While I am certain the Minister for Health will sympathise with sensitive young people who have badly formed, or crooked teeth or a very crowded mouth, he will surely appreciate the extreme anxiety of a young boy or girl who may be jeered by classmates from wealthier families or who is deeply embarrassed by this problem at the first discos or teenage social gathering of their young lives. When young adults are at the most difficult and vulnerable stage of their development this problem occurs and has often had a detrimental impact on them
A case study from my files is typical of what children and parents suffer. The parents of an 11 year-old boy, category three on the waiting list, was placed on this list in 1988 and is still waiting eight years later for much needed treatment. The boy is in full-time education and there had not been a hint from the EHB when he will be treated. One must ask why there are such categories. This boy's parents could not afford the £3,000 necessary for private orthodontic treatment in the State or the cost of treatment in Northern Ireland.
Another young boy has been assessed as a category two case, which should have high priority for treatment, but he has been waiting almost five years. A girl on the same list has waited for the period of her second level education for treatment without any response from the EHB. She urged her father to contact me; I contacted the Minister and the EHB, yet nothing has happened.
I am aware the Minister, in his typically vigorous fashion, has tried to redirect resources to cope with this problem. During 1995 the EHB increased its number of orthodontists from two to five and the appointment of two consultant orthodontists has been approved by the Minister for the EHB. However, there has been a problem filling these posts, apparently because dentists and contultants seem to prefer the lucrative private market. As a result, the first of the consultants will only start work on 1 July next.
The Minister has also allocated funding for the construction of two new orthodontic units at Beaumont and St. James's hospitals. He has also indicated that EHB categories one and two will be reduced and that category three patients will be treated. I respect the good faith of the Minister's determination but while his plans are taking effect slowly our working class teenagers and children are suffering. They demand urgent action. If that means shaking up the lucrative dental profession, then so be it. Let us solve this problem as soon as possible.