Dáil Éireann - Volume 550 - 21 March, 2002
Written Answers. - Orthodontic Service.
Mr. G. Mitchell Mr. G. Mitchell
125. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the waiting list for ortho dontic treatment in each health board area and the waiting times for assessment and treatment applicable in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9649/02]
Mr. Martin Mr. Martin
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): The provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons is the statutory responsibility of the health boards in the first instance. I have taken a range of important measures to improve the capacity of the public orthodontic services and place it on a sound long-term footing. Structural changes are being introduced into the orthodontic service such as the creation of the grade of specialist in orthodontics, the development of specialist training programmes and the creation of an auxiliary grade of orthodontic therapist to work in the orthodontic area.
Six dentists from the Eastern Regional Health Authority, North-Eastern Health Board and South-Eastern Health Board commenced their training last October for specialist in orthodontics qualifications. My Department has provided €0.541 million in 2002 for specialist in orthodontics training. Furthermore, three dentists from the Western Health Board and North-Eastern Health Board are already in specialist training for orthodontics and this brings the total number of dentists in such training to nine. Discussions on providing an additional training course to commence this year are also under way. The grade of orthodontic therapist will act as a support to the consultant orthodontist specialists and other dentists working in the orthodontic unit thus enabling a greater volume of treatment.
My Department has funded the appointment of a director of specialist training for the Irish Committee for Specialist Training in Dentistry through the Post Graduate Medical and Dental  Board. The director has taken up duty and will play a pivotal role in assisting the different agencies involved in dental specialist training programmes. In addition, my Department has also funded the recruitment of a professor in orthodontics at Cork University Dental School, to facilitate the development of an approved training programme leading to specialist qualifications in orthodontics. Capital funding of approximately €1.27 million was also provided to the orthodontics unit there for its refurbishment to an appropriate standard.
In the short-term, I have funded an orthodontic initiative to ease current pressures on the system. Additional funding of €6.729 million was approved for orthodontic services last year of which €4.698 million was to fund an initiative on orthodontic waiting lists. This is enabling health boards to recruit additional staff and engage the services of private specialist orthodontic practitioners to treat patients. An additional six-surgery facility and five-surgery facility at the Loughlinstown regional orthodontic unit and the St. James' Hospital regional orthodontic unit, respectively, have also been developed under the initiative. My Department is exploring with boards every possibility to expand the level of services in the short-term such as the use of private specialist orthodontic practitioners and the treatment of patients in out-of-hours sessions by health board orthodontists.
My Department has also funded the development of new regional orthodontic units at Dundalk and Navan – both of which are operational – and the recruitment of a consultant orthodontist for the Midland Health Board who was appointed last year. The chief executive officers of the health boards have informed me of the following information on their orthodontic waiting lists as at the end of the December 2001 quarter:
*Average waiting time between both categories is 18 months
Patients in category A require immediate treatment and include those with congenital abnormalities of the jaws such as cleft lip and palate, and patients with major skeletal discrepancies between the sizes of the jaws. Patients in category B have less severe problems than category A patients and are placed on the orthodontic treatment waiting list. These figures show that the number of patients awaiting assessment and treatment fell by 1,133 and 1,613 respectively between June and December 2001.
The chief executive officers of the health boards have further informed me that at the end of the same quarter, there were 17,295 patients in  orthodontic treatment in the health boards. This is an increase of 3,086 patients in orthodontic treatment when compared with the number of patients in treatment in May 1999. I expect that the number of patients in orthodontic treatment will continue to increase as the measures that I have taken to improve orthodontic services take effect.
Dáil Éireann 550 Written Answers. Orthodontic Service.