Irish Government accused of ignoring ‘collapse of dental profession’

The Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has accused the Government of “ignoring the effective collapse of the dental profession in Ireland”, as the Covid-19 crisis continues to lead to widespread dental practice closures and redundancies.

In a letter to Simon Harris, the Minister for Health, and Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Finance, Fintan Hourihan wrote: “I cannot overstate the sense of despair and panic in the dental profession at present. Unfortunately, there is also considerable anger amongst dentists at what is seen as complete neglect of our reasonable concerns by the Government.”

Repeated representations by the Association in recent weeks to the offices of both Minister Harris and Minister Donohoe, outlining in detail the scale of the crisis in the profession, have not been answered, it said.

“In normal times, 83% of spending on dentistry is out of pocket rather than paid for by the State,” said Hourihan, “now, dentists’ incomes are down by over 90% on average during the Covid-19 pandemic as routine dentistry has been prohibited and emergency care cannot be provided in many cases due to unavailable or overly expensive PPE and other requirements.”

He said it was disappointing that dentists had not received a similar level of support given to the medical and pharmaceutical professions, especially given dentists receive no capitation funding from the State. “Medics and pharmacists have, quite rightly, been offered extensive support from the Government in order to continue to operate in such challenging circumstances. However, dentists have been left utterly isolated,” he added.

Hourihan said there were a small number of dentists working extraordinarily hard to serve their patients against the odds, but they could not do it alone. “Oral health is vitally important for overall health, and a significant proportion of the population cannot access this care because so many dentists are unable to open their practice doors. This is unacceptable.”

The IODA chief executive said that it was “ironic” that the Government and public health experts were advising people not to ignore their general health while the dental profession was close to collapse. He also said it was regrettable that emergency centres established by the HSE only cater for children under 16, people with special needs and medical card holders.

“The key for dentists is that there needs to be some measure of confidence that they will be able to resume viable practice in the near future,” he said. “The Association is urging the Government to consider a special kickstart package for dentistry.”

Specifically, the Association is urging the Government to consider the following proposals:

  • Provision of financial support to enable dentists source PPE now required and mandated by the Dental Council and also to make whatever other structural changes may be needed to their clinics;
  • Provision of an advance in payments provided under the state schemes (medical card and PRSI) akin to those supports provided in Northern Ireland, Britain, Germany and many other jurisdictions;
  • Temporarily suspend the collection of professional withholding tax from payments made to dentists contracted by the HSE and the Department of Social Protection to treat medical care and PRSI-eligible patients respectively;
  • Direct the Revenue Commissioners to introduce a moratorium on VAT payments;
  • Direct the Department of Social Protection to halve the rate of Employer PRSI contributions;
  • Reintroduce mortgage interest relief on outstanding mortgage loans on principal primary residences for all;
  • Use its influence with the banks to introduce an interest-free holiday freeze on all loan repayments for those whose earnings have stalled; 
  • Allow tax relief on private health insurance for dental treatments
  • Direct that the Revenue Commissioners would amend the terms of the MED 2 scheme to allow relief at the marginal rate for the remainder of 2020.

Published: 27 April, 2020 at 14:32