Although he welcomed the Greens’ proposal, Spallek said a gradual move towards a universal national scheme starting with a dental scheme for the elderly – as recommended by the Royal Commission on the Care of the Aged – would be “more easy to implement given the current workforce”.
“Pent-up demand would mean the floodgates would open and cause enormous strain on the system unless it was done gradually,” Spallek said.
A new dental benefit scheme for older people is a policy strongly supported by the Australian Dental Association. In 2019, the Federal Labor Party pledged multibillion-dollar pledges for free dental and cancer care for pensioners, but has so far not confirmed the policy.
Data from the Productivity Commission shows average wait times in NSW for a first dental visit is 465 days and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients it is 480 days .
Waiting too long to treat problems such as toothaches can result in emergency patients being treated in severe pain, with the most recent figures showing that 67,000 hospitalizations for dental problems could potentially be avoided with earlier treatment.
“If it were cancer or heart disease, it would be given much more attention. This is an acute problem requiring urgent attention,” said Professor Matt Hopcraft, director general of the Victorian branch of the Australian Dental Association.
Just over 151,000 people in Victoria are waiting for public dental treatment, bringing the total waiting list to over 250,000 across NSW and Victoria. The average wait time to be seen in Victoria is 24.8 months, the worst delays in a decade, Hopcraft said.
In New South Wales, holders of pension cards and other concessions are eligible for public dental services at public clinics. The Children’s Dental Benefit Plan provides subsidized services for children, but only about 38% of people use it, according to the ADA.
“Poor dental health can cause embarrassment, kids miss school, people struggle to find jobs…there are all kinds of hidden costs,” Hopcraft said.
A spokesperson for NSW Health said the state government has provided an additional $458 million to expedite elective waiting lists, including dental, which have been delayed due to COVID-19.
“In New South Wales, patients with urgent dental issues receive immediate appointments and are not placed on a waiting list. Public dental services are prioritized for patients based on clinical need,” a said the spokesperson.
Waiting lists are worse in the local health district of Hunter New England where 15,144 people are waiting for treatment, Sydney has 13,890 on the list and the Central Coast 11,217.
The federal government announced $107.8 million to continue supporting public services for adults through a federation funding agreement through June 2022, providing treatment for an additional 180,000 public dental patients.
“Thanks to government support for three national partnership agreements and the federation funding agreement, waiting times for public dental service have been reduced from an average of 20 months to 12 months over the duration of these agreements,” said a spokesman for the Minister of Health, Greg Hunt.
“Conversely, Labor carried a disastrous dental plan in the 2019 elections which it has now shelved. Waiting lists are the responsibility of each state or territory. »