Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Ceisteanna (287, 288)

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

362 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Health and Children the waiting times for women in the North Western Health Board region for smear tests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3905/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

The current waiting time in the North Western Health Board region in respect of cervical smears is four weeks for priority smears and 16 weeks for routine smears. The North Western Health Board will continue to make efforts to reduce the waiting times further.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

363 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Health and Children when it is envisaged that children with orthodontic criteria of category C will be seen in the North Western Health Board region and the efforts that can be made to avail of the treatment purchase fund for people who are already assessed or who are still awaiting assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3906/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The provision of orthodontic services is the statutory responsibility of the health boards or authority in the first instance. The aim of my Department is to develop the treatment capacity of orthodontics, both nationally and in the North Western Health Board or NWHB, in a sustainable way over the longer term. Given the potential level of demand for orthodontic services, the provision of those services 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 and 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 in the NWHB 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. In fact, the provision of orthodontic services there is currently 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 this 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, including one from the NWHB, 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.

In June 2002 my Department provided additional funding of €5 million — €285,000 for the NWHB — from the treatment purchase fund towards the treatment of persons on the orthodontic waiting lists. My Department instructed the health boards or authority that the funding was to be allocated on the basis of the following principles: treatment of clients longest on the waiting list in accordance with the severity of their treatment need; allocation to provide additional treatments over and above what was provided in the normal way; efficiency and value for money; and equitable delivery across health board populations. In accordance with these principles, the chief executive officer of the NWHB is responsible for identifying patients on its waiting list to be treated under the treatment purchase fund.

The chief executive officer of the NWHB has informed my Department that, at the end of the December 2003 quarter, there were 2,532 patients receiving orthodontic treatment in the board's area. This is an increase of 433 patients in orthodontic treatment when compared with the number of patients receiving treatment at the end of December 2001.