Drop in waiting times for public dental care in Victoria but concerns remain

waiting times for public dental care in Victoria
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Waiting times for public dental treatment dropped to an average 16.5 months in December 2022 as a result of a one-off injection of funds, however concerns remain about ongoing access to dental care for more than 1.5 million eligible Victorians. 

“These are the lowest waiting times to access public dental care in Victoria since 2016/17, which comes off the back of ongoing advocacy from the ADAVB to increase funding,” ADAVB president A/Prof Warren Shnider said. 

“However, waiting more than 12 months is still unacceptable for patients with significant treatment needs.”

The Victorian Government provided $27 million last year to target waiting lists after the delays in accessing care imposed by government restrictions, which had seen the waiting time blow out to 26.7 months in June 2022. 

This additional funding has helped to remove a large number of patients from the waiting list, but concerns remain about the ability of eligible patients to access care given the chronic underfunding of public dentistry. 

“History tells us that these one-off injections of cash only offer short-term relief, and without a more sustainable approach, we know that waiting times will rapidly increase,” A/Prof Shnider said.

Treatment activity appears to be returning to normal levels, with 205,516 people treated from June-December 2022 (including 124,766 adult patients). However, this is still only a small fraction of the 1.5 million adults who are eligible to access dental care. While people wait for dental care, their existing problems worsen and often lead to the need for emergency treatment. Over the past six months, around one third of all courses of care in the public system were for emergencies rather than routine and preventive treatment. 

The data also highlights significant issues with the public dental workforce, with the number of clinicians declining by 21.6 FTE staff over the past six months, representing six per cent of the workforce. 

“We have raised concerns during stalled enterprise bargaining negotiations last year about issues relating to recruitment and retention of dentists,” A/Prof Shnider said. 

“It is vital that the Victorian Government addresses these workforce issues as a matter of urgency to ensure that we have a strong public dental sector so that vulnerable Victorians can access necessary care.” 

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