Dáil Éireann - Volume 542 - 24 October, 2001

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Service.

214. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the measures he has taken to reduce the orthodontic waiting list since his appointment as Minister for Health and Children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25537/01]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): The provision of orthodontic services is the responsibility of the health boards in the first instance.

At the invitation of my Department, a group representative of health board management and consultant orthodontists reviewed the orthodontic services. The objective of this review was to ensure equity in the provision of orthodontic treatment throughout the health boards. Following this review structural changes are being introduced in the orthodontic services. These changes include the creation of the grade of specialist in orthodontics, the development of specialist training programmes and the creation of a grade of auxiliary dental worker in the orthodontic area.

Agreement has now been reached at the [1692] Health Employers' Service Agency on the creation of the specialist in orthodontics grade in the orthodontic service. In addition, an accord has been reached between the Dental Council, the two dental schools and hospitals in Dublin and Cork and the Irish Committee for Specialist Training in Dentistry to establish specialist dental training in this country on a sound footing. The Dublin Dental Hospital, Trinity College and health boards have advertised a specialist training programme in orthodontics and six dentists for the Eastern Regional Health Authority, North-Eastern Health Board and South-Eastern Health Board commenced their training this month. Furthermore three dentists from the Western Health Board and North-Eastern Health Board are already in specialist training for orthodontics. This brings the total number of dentists in orthodontic specialist training to nine and discussions on providing an additional training course to commence in 2002 are also under way.

However, it will be some time before these structural changes impact significantly on service levels. Consequently, I asked health boards to develop proposals to make an immediate significant impact on their waiting lists. An additional investment of £5.3 million, 6.729 million, has been approved for orthodontic services this year, of which £3.7 million, 4.698 million, is to fund an initiative on orthodontic waiting lists. This will enable health boards to recruit additional staff and engage the services of private specialist orthodontic practitioners to treat patients.

The chief executive officers of the health boards have informed me of the following progress with their developments under the initiative: two additional consultant orthodontists, four specialists in orthodontics, one dental team and two permanent superintendent radiographers have been recruited. Interviews for posts of dental surgery assistants in the East Coast Area Health Board, ECAHB, have been completed and the recruitment process for the successful candidates is almost finalised. A competition to fill the post of dental hygienist in the ECAHB has been completed and the recruitment process for the successful candidate is currently in train. A competition in respect of similar posts in the other area health boards will be organised in the near future. A six surgery facility at Loughlinstown regional orthodontic unit has been developed and is now open. The treatment of patients there has commenced. The equipping of an additional five surgery unit at the St. James's Hospital orthodontic unit has been completed and the unit is now operational. Three orthodontic managers have been recruited in the Eastern Regional Health Authority to manage the orthodontic services of the area health boards. My Department has recently approved a proposal from the Mid-Western Health Board to engage the services of private specialist orthodontic practitioners to treat patients. My Department has also funded the recruitment of a professor in orthodontics at Cork Dental School to facilitate [1693] the development of an approved training programme leading to specialist qualifications in orthodontics. Applications for the post were invited when it was advertised on 19 October 2001.

In addition, I have also funded the development of a new regional orthodontic unit at Dundalk, recently operational, and the recruitment of a consultant orthodontist for the Midland Health Board who was appointed earlier this year.