Further budget fallout

The decision to terminate the Oral Health Therapist Graduate Year Program has come under fire.
The decision to terminate the Oral Health Therapist Graduate Year Program has come under fire.

There has been further fallout from the provisions (or lack thereof) for dental care in the latest Federal Budget, as more details of the Government’s savings measures come to light.

The Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists’ Association (ADOHTA) has slammed the Commonwealth Government decision to terminate the Oral Health Therapist Graduate Year Program (OHTGYP) at the end of the 2015 calendar year, a full year earlier than scheduled.

“The decision has been a shock as the 2014-15 Federal Budget had included future funding in the forward estimates for 50 OHTGYP and 50 Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program (VDGYP) participants each year until the end of the 2018 calendar year”, said ADOHTA President Hellene Platell.

However, not everyone is displeased with the Budget. Dental Health Services Victoria CEO, Dr Deborah Cole, said it was a great relief to know vulnerable Victorians would continue to receive the best possible care in a timely and efficient way with new funding under new 12 month National Partnership Agreement (NPA) for adult dental and access to the Child Dental Benefit Schedule.

“The last NPA exceeded Commonwealth targets and made a huge difference in the amount of patients we could treat. This meant an extra 111,000 Victorians receiving care than in previous years. We want to now get on with the job of doing the same with this money although it is significantly less than was first promised.

“We are particularly pleased with the continuation of the Child Benefits Dental Schedule as early intervention is a key part of our work.”

Dr Cole said it was of concern however that it appeared this would be the last NPA the Government would fund despite earlier promises.

“It makes it difficult to forward plan when the commitment is only for 12 months.  It does raise significant  issues about how serious the federal government is about dental health care.

Dr Cole did express disappointment about the Government decision to cease funding for the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program and the Voluntary Oral Health Therapist Program which target workforce shortages in rural and remote areas.

Around 40 per cent of Australians do not have access to regular dental care and these programs were established to address critical dental and oral health workforce shortages and maldistributions and to attract graduates to public sector practice in areas in need, particularly in rural and remote areas. People who have the poorest access to dental care are the ones who will be most affected by this decision.

Its aim was to provide supported opportunities to place new dental and oral health graduates in areas of workforce shortage, to both increase participation in public sector service delivery and build skills for work in rural and remote areas and contribute to workforce sustainability.

ADOHTA president, Hellene Platell said, “Despite assertions by the government about its failure to meet needs, formal program evaluation has not been undertaken. From our perspective and from feedback provided by graduates and service providers, the program has been extremely beneficial. This program has been attracting our best graduates to work in the public sector and rural areas”.

Ms Platell added, “…although funding was allocated and a tender process undertaken in 2014, a decision was made by the Abbott Government not to formally evaluate the program.”

ADOHTA is extremely disappointed that the Program will not be on offer for the contracted period and no doubt, there will also be many final year students, public sector providers, communities in need and rural patients disheartened and disadvantaged by the decision.

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