On 17 September Health Minister Michael McGimpsey announced an injection of £4\.4 million into health service dentistry, addressing the problems of access reported in parts of the province.
In a statement to the Assembly, the Minister said: ‘I strongly believe that people who want health service dentistry should be able to get it. That is far from the case in too many parts of Northern Ireland today.
‘It has become clear to me that the additional £2 million funding announced earlier this year, though undoubtedly significant, has not proved sufficient to stop the movement of dentists out of the health service.
‘I am therefore pleased to be able to announce a substantial package of additional measures.
‘These new measures will allow the health service to begin to address directly the problems of gaps in provision which are a matter of real concern to the public.’
The measures announced by the Minister are:
• An additional injection of a further £2 million recurrent, over and above that already announced in this financial year, into Practice Allowances. This is specifically to address the profession’s main concern with the current dental contract, namely the issue of resourcing overhead costs
• In recognition of the increasing costs of meeting cross-infection control standards, £1.5 million is being made available to help dentists with the costs of necessary new equipment and procedures, thus improving patient safety in the surgery
• To help ensure an adequate supply of new young dentists into health service dentistry in Northern Ireland, £500,000 is being made available to increase the Vocational Training allowances significantly for trainers willing to take on new graduates
• Up to £400,000 is being allocated to Boards to address the problem of equity of access to health service dentistry, to enable them to grow the salaried dentists sector to plug gaps in health service provision.
The Minister explained that the additional funding for Practice Allowances would be directed towards those practices committed to providing health service dentistry to the full range of patients, including adults who pay for their treatment.
Mr McGimpsey went on to say: ‘I very much hope that the significant investments I have outlined will encourage dentists not only to come into and stay in the health service, but to come back to it where they have currently opted for private practice.
‘I cannot accept a situation where there remain geographical pockets within Northern Ireland where dentists have ceased to provide health service dentistry, or provide it only to patients who are exempt from charges.
‘I am determined to provide fair and equable payment for Health Service treatment of patients in Northern Ireland.’