Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Five-year wait for dentist

Even with very limited eligibility

Waiting times for basic check-ups in Queensland's public dental services can be as long as up to five years, according to the Australian Dental Association. This is despite the State Government spending more on public dental services than any other state, allocating about $132 million compared with NSW, which spends about $100 million. Yet Queenslanders still have the worst teeth in the nation, while the government and councils are engaged in an argument over the provision of fluoride in drinking water.

Figures provided by Queensland Health and Health Minister Stephen Robertson confirm the length of time people were waiting for public dental services. He said that it should be noted that the majority of dental services in Queensland are provided by the private sector. "Queensland has the most generous eligibility criteria for public oral health services of any state or territory," he said. "Around 1.8 million Queenslanders, adults and children, are eligible for free oral health care."

Mr Robertson said consultant Peter Forster's Health Systems Review acknowledged the high demand for oral health services and the difficulties experienced in meeting that demand. "Workforce shortages [Translation: Measly wages for dentists] are a significant issue in meeting demand. The shortage of dentists is a national issue. Queensland Health currently has about 300 full-time dentist positions. In January 2006, 20 per cent of these positions were vacant," he said.

"Patients with dental emergencies are generally seen within 24 hours. Those with non-emergency conditions will wait longer. "It is unlikely that waiting times for non-urgent care will improve greatly in 2006."

Opposition health spokesman Dr Bruce Flegg said public dental services were effectively being rationed. "There is a means test and only people with pension or health care cards can access the service," Dr Flegg said. "It would be a pretence for the state government to say we have a universal free dental service because we do not."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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