The Irish Government must act

News that plans for the new Cork University Dental School and Hospital have been shelved is “devastating”

In the spring of 2020, it was anticipated that work would soon begin on the new €45m Cork University Dental School and Hospital (CUDSH). The vision was for “a leading centre of excellence”, according to Helen Whelton, head of the College of Medicine and Health, “providing quality patient care for the community, shaping the dental team of tomorrow through education, research and innovation”.

The state-of-the-art facilities would provide increased capacity for students, both national and international, as well as integration and enhancement of key research goals, and enhanced student experience through practical teaching and learning. The existing school and hospital, including the Oral Health Services Research Centre, comprises 5,557m² of space; the new development would increase this to 8,710m², over five floors and with adjoining clinical and education/administration blocks.

The clinical block would house 140 dental chairs across primary dental care, acute emergency care, oral surgery, medicine and radiology, as well as a conscious sedation suite and recovery area. The chairs would also cover special care dentistry, paediatric dentistry, orthodontics and restorative dentistry. The block would contain a postgraduate research and innovation centre, including an oral research/translational research laboratory.

There would be an imaging department, a central decontamination unit, support spaces for clinics, as well as sensory rooms on the ground and upper floors for special care and paediatric dentistry patients. The education and administration block would house a 72-bench simulation laboratory, haptic lab, library, staff offices, administration area and facilities management, café, auditorium, seminar rooms, and staff and student support spaces, including a multifaith prayer room.

Whelton added: “It focuses on our aspirations to significantly expand the postgraduate function and associated research outputs in line with UCC’s strategic plan.

“That is to deliver an outstanding, student-centred teaching and learning experience with a renewed, responsive, research-led curriculum at its core and to be a leading university for research, discovery, innovation, entrepreneurship, commercialisation and societal impact.”

Then came news last month that plans for the new dental school and hospital have been shelved. The pandemic had meant work could not begin on schedule and now rising construction costs have put the project out of reach.

Professor Paul Brady, the Dean, said that remaining at their current location was “untenable”. He said: “We have a frail, old building. It’s got a leaking roof, and other issues as would be expected of a building that age.”

According to a recent study1, Ireland has the fewest dentists out of 24 European countries. It is estimated by the Irish Dental Association (IDA) that the number of dentists has decreased by around 25 per cent over the last decade – with eligible patients increasing by 25 per cent over the same period – and that the country currently has a shortfall of around 500.

Only around 90 dental graduates every year from Ireland’s two dental schools in UCC and Trinity College.

The IDA has described the news that plans for the new CUDSH had been shelved as “devastating”. It is urging the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, and all relevant Government departments to acknowledge that the dental school can no longer reside in an ageing building with outdated equipment – and allocate adequate funding to allow for the original plans to proceed.

We support this view wholeheartedly; the Irish Government must act, and quickly.

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  1. Consultation of Dentists – Healthcare Activities Statistics, Eurostat Statistics Explained.

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Published: 11 March, 2024 at 07:07