A new National Oral Health Policy, Smile agus Sláinte, was launched in April 2019. That Policy set out the roadmap for the future provision of oral healthcare to the eligible population. It has two key goals; first, to provide the supports to enable every individual to achieve their best oral health, and second, to reduce oral health inequalities across the population, by enabling vulnerable groups to access oral healthcare and improve their oral health.
The Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS), which dates from the 1990s is available to medical card holders aged 16 and over. The dental care is provided by independent dental practitioners who have a contract with the HSE. There is a need to align the DTSS with best international evidence and practice, and legislation, as outlined in Smile agus Sláinte. Regretfully, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the roll-out of the Policy to be delayed and the proposed review of the DTSS contract to be deferred.
Nevertheless, there has been continued engagement between my officials, the HSE and the dental community throughout the pandemic on infection control measures, guidelines for safe dental practice, and ensuring that dental professionals were included in the high-risk group for early vaccination. This sustained engagement was with a view to ensuring that a safe satisfactory service could be continued for the eligible population.
I have acknowledged that there is a need for a substantive review of the DTSS and have given a commitment that the review would be undertaken. I have also acknowledged the immediate issues of concern with current arrangements under the Scheme.
I instructed my officials to hold talks with the Irish Dental Association (IDA) to address both issues. I am aware that preliminary talks were held in June this year and that it is proposed to hold further talks in the coming weeks, at which all of the issues raised by the Deputy will be up for discussion.
I would also wish to point out that I secured additional funding of €10 million in Budget 2022 to address immediate issues with the DTSS, which is on top of the annual allocation of €56 million for 2022.