Waiting lists blow out for children

Adult lists are dropping, but her wait is increasing.
Adult lists are dropping, but her wait is increasing.

While public dental waiting lists for adults have been plummeting in New South Wales, the waiting list for children has blown out in some parts of the state. Figures released by the NSW Department of Health show that between December last year and September this year, the number of children on public dental waiting lists increased by 11 per cent on the mid-North coast, 27 per cent in Northern Sydney, 22 per cent in South Western Sydney, 15 per cent in western Sydney; 18 per cent in Illawarra and 26 per cent in South Eastern Sydney.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald suggested some experts say the changes are a test run for next year’s changes, when the federal government will introduce free universal dental care for all children aged two to 17. The Child Dental Benefits Schedule will cost $2.9 billion over six years and will use a similar mix of vouchers and triage.

The same article suggested the reductions in adult numbers can be attributed to a range of factors, including new federal funding of $111 million to provide additional dental services until March 31, next year.

To clear the backlog, a new triage system was introduced to ensure urgent cases were seen immediately. In Queensland and NSW, some public patients are being given vouchers for treatment by private dentists.

The National Partnership Agreement on Treating More Public Dental Patients (the Dental NPA) is a joint Commonwealth and NSW 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.

NSW is eligible to receive up to $110.8 million for providing additional public dental services from 4 February 2013 to 31 March 2015. These additional services will help to reduce pressure on public dental waiting lists, and will be targeted to the most disadvantaged groups in NSW.

People already on public dental waiting lists will be treated as a priority. Declines in patient waiting lists have been most substantial amongst adults awaiting dental treatments, where a 40 per cent reduction has been observed following the implementation of the Dental NPA.

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