Government must come clean on dental programs

Friday, February 20, 2015

A coalition of eight national health organisations is calling on the Commonwealth Government to use next week’s Senate Budget Estimates hearings to reveal its plans for three important dental health programs.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said millions of Australians would be impacted if the Government fails in its 2013 election commitment around the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Adult Public Dental Services, and its support for the Child Dental Benefit Schedule (CDBS) and the National Oral Health Promotion Plan

“When it comes to election promises and oral health, the Government’s report card looks extremely disappointing,” Ms Verhoeven said. “The $1.3 billion in funding for the NPA has been delayed, a review of the CDBS hasn’t eventuated and the implementation of the National Oral Health Promotion Plan doesn’t appear to be on the table.

“The Government is also yet to properly engage with community groups, professional bodies or the State and Territory Governments on these issues. The lack of discussion around the NPA funding, for example, makes our organisations very concerned that the program may be on the chopping block. States and Territories have significantly reduced the waiting lists for dental services by using existing NPA money to allow patients to access additional services in the public and private sectors but those improvements will quickly be eroded if the new NPA doesn’t commence as scheduled.” 

The President of the Australian Health Promotion Association, Gemma Crawford, said the Government’s decision to delay the review into public sector access to the CDBS would create uncertainty around the future of public dental health services for young Australians.

“While the Government granted a six-month extension to this program in December 2014, it’s essential that we look longer term at improving the oral health of our children,” Ms Crawford said. “More than half of six-year-old children experience tooth decay and around 20,000 children under 10 are admitted to hospital every year to have dental treatment under general anaesthetic.”

Ms Crawford highlighted that, with the majority of oral disease preventable, it was important to ensure the delivery of the $10.5 million National Oral Health Promotion Plan, as outlined in the 2013-14 Budget.

“Given the Government’s mantra about the sustainability of the health budget, it should proceed with such programs like this that would reduce the rate of oral disease and the overall cost of oral healthcare,” Ms Crawford said. “Instead, the plan has not been released and the funding has been withdrawn.” 

Ms Verhoeven said that the Senate Budget Estimates would be an excellent opportunity for the government to demonstrate its commitment to pre-election promises around dental health.

“While our organisations recognise the need to manage the cost of health services, our respective pre-Budget submissions have highlighted opportunities for efficiencies and savings,” Ms Verhoeven said. “The Government needs to start considering the long-term future of oral health in Australia.”

The eight organisations calling on the Commonwealth Government, and their respective media contacts, are:

Australian Council of Social Service
Fernando de Freitas, Media Advisor
Ph. 0419 626 155

Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists’ Association
Julie Barker, President
Ph: 0412 491 887

Australian Health Care Reform Alliance
Tony McBride, Chair
Ph: 0407 531 468

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive
Ph: 0403 282 501

Australian Health Promotion Association
Gemma Crawford, President
Ph: 0411 777 795

The Dental Hygienists’ Association of Australia

Dr Melanie Hayes, National President
Ph: 0410 544 247

National Rural Health Alliance
Gordon Gregory, CEO
Ph: 02 6285 4660

Public Health Association of Australia
Michael Moore, CEO
Ph: 02 6285 2373