Dental waiting lists growing again


dental queueHopes that the implementation of the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Public Dental Health Services public dental waiting lists are being dashed, with waiting lists on the rise in New South Wales and Victoria. This is of particular concern as the NPA was designed to target the most needy patients—and according to an analysis of the statistics by the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), those are the patients who are missing out.

The National Partnership Agreement on Treating More Public Dental Patients (the Dental NPA) is a joint Commonwealth and state initiative that aims to deliver additional public dental services to eligible patients. The Dental NPA is focused on providing additional services to patients who are Aboriginal, at high risk of or from major dental problems, and patients living in rural and remote areas.

But in a recent blog post, VCOSS policy advisor Brooke McKail writes, “Waiting times for public dentistry have increased significantly in the last year. Despite success in reducing public dental waiting lists through the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Public Dental Health Services, the deferral of this agreement may be causing waiting times to grow again. In 2012-13 around 70 per cent of people waited more than one month for services. By 2013-14 this had risen to 83 per cent (the second highest percentage nationally).”

In New South Wales, under the National Partnerships Agreement, the state is able to receive up to $110.8 mill for providing additional public dental services between 4 February 2013 and 31 March 2015, and NSW public dental services use the Priority Oral Health Program for telephone triaging to prioritise access based on clinical need and socio-economic risk factors.

According to figures published by NSW Health, the waiting times for adult assessments and treatments have been creeping steadily upwards since the middle of 2013. While the wait lists for children’s assessments had dropped, the numbers receiving treatments have stayed roughly the same.

This is despite increasing recruitment of dental staff, increasing clinic hours and chair time, and an increase in the use of the private sector to help tackle the waiting lists.

On the Dept of Health website, it says: “At the end of December 2014 there were 3,281 children and 60,961 adults waiting for general dental treatment. Of the total number of children waiting general dental treatment 93.1% were within clinically acceptable benchmark times. Of the total number of adults waiting for general dental treatment 80.3% were within clinically acceptable benchmark times.”

The Victorian analysis, drawn from the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, also shows that good health and access to healthcare in Victoria remains unequal, and that the availability of public dental care is lower than in other states.

Writing on the VCOSS blog, Brooke McKail said, “(Oral disease) is experienced at a greater rate by people experiencing disadvantage, including Aboriginal people, people on low incomes and people in rural and regional areas.

“According to the report, Victoria has a lower rate of public dentists than the national average, at 6.2 per 100,000 Victorians. We also have the lowest rate of public dental hygienists and dental therapists.”

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  1. The Public Health Dental Service is extremely under-resourced, needing increase in manpower, and funding to encourage the manpower to participate. I have been involved in recent activity to increase the sessional rates of pay for visiting dental officers, myself being active in two of the state Health Department Area Health Service where I provide specialist services. I have waiting lists at two large hospitals, extending into periods of up to 12 months. The dental health of some of these patients is compromising their general health. Last year there was some publicity about dental health of country patients , “bush dentistry”, but this has largely petered out. One minister responded to approaches saying in words to the effect that “we are to receive additional dentists into the system next year, as they graduate from the various schools” . I had to inform the minister that this would add to the problem because the new graduates would not have the breadth of experience to deal with anything more than the simplest of dental procedures, creating a “log-jam” of patients with extended and non-productive treatment plans. More money is required to attract underactive general practitioners to the service.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with Evan, the pay rate needs to attract dental officers with a wide range of skill and confidence in dental treatment.

      Additionally, a concerted effort needs to be made to address the causes of the inequalities we see in disadvantaged population groups to resolve this issue (ie compromised health; diabetes; smoking; poor diet; poor work conditions; poor childhood development; accessibility)

  2. I waited 10 years for braces and it was definitely not for cosmetics, my dentist that referred me gave me the highest classification. I wish I knew it would’ve taken this long

  3. I dont know but here is an idea – What if we made it a requirement of Dental Registration that we [all dentists] perform 5 days a year of government / hospital dentistry at a decent pay rate- and everyone has to – but here is the kicker – we can bring our own dental nurses and the hospital nurses can work int he background as a second nurse / steri nurse so the through put is higher [ more like a private practice than a government practice ] and the standard of work is higher as its coming from more experienced dentists.
    Just a wild and not fully thought out suggestion to help the public.


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