Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Ceisteanna (184)

Dan Neville

Ceist:

274 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children when patients with severity rating C will be prioritised for treatment by the orthodontic service of the Mid-Western Health Board. [3329/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of orthodontic services is the statutory responsibility of the health boards-authority.

My Department aims to develop the treatment capacity of orthodontics — both nationally and in the MWHB — in a sustainable way in the long term. Given the potential level of demand for orthodontic services, their provision will continue to be based on prioritisation of cases based on treatment need — as happens under the existing guidelines.

The guidelines are intended to enable health boards to identify in a consistent way those in greatest need and to commence timely treatment for them. Patients in category A require immediate treatment. They include those with congenital abnormalities of the jaws such as cleft lip and palate, and patients with major skeletal discrepancies between the sizes of the jaws. Patients in category B have less severe problems than category A patients and are placed on the orthodontic treatment waiting list. The number of cases treated by the board is dependent on the level of resources available, in terms of qualified staff, in the area and this is reflected in the treatment waiting list. At present the provision of orthodontic services is severely restricted due to the limited availability of trained specialist clinical staff to assess and treat patients and accordingly boards do not normally maintain category C waiting lists. I have taken a number of measures to address the shortage of specialists and so increase the treatment capacity of the orthodontic service.

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 the qualification in Ireland. They were trained here and at three separate universities in the United Kingdom. They are trainees for the public orthodontic service and are additional to the six dentists that commenced training in 2001. There is an aggregate of 19 dentists in specialist training for orthodontics. These measures will compliment the other structural changes being introduced into the 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. The appointment will facilitate the development of an approved training programme leading to a specialist qualification in orthodontics. The SHB's chief executive officer has reported that the professor commenced duty on 1 December. In recognition of the importance of the post my Department has approved, in principle, a proposal from the school to further improve its training facilities for orthodontics. The 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, including the MWHB, under the leadership of the professor of orthodontics.

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. It enabled boards to provide additional sessions for existing staff and to purchase treatment from private specialist orthodontic practitioners. The MWHB was allocated an additional €0.451 million from the fund for the treatment of cases in this way.

The chief executive officer of the MWHB has informed my Department that at the end of the September quarter 2003 there were 1,863 children receiving orthodontic treatment in the board's region. The CEOs of the health boards-authority have also informed my Department that at the end of the September quarter 2003 there were 20,784 children receiving orthodontic treatment in the public orthodontic service. Therefore, over twice as many children receive orthodontic treatment as are waiting for treatment and nearly 3,500 extra children have received treatment from the health boards since the end of 2001.

Question No. 275 answered with QuestionNo. 266.