$90M Over Four Years to Cut Dental Queues Watered Down to $12M

A $12 million dental deal will see an extra 14,617 South Australians get treatment this financial year, but Health Minister Jack Snelling says the agreement “doesn’t get to the root of the problem”.

The agreement with the Federal Government, which covers eligible adult public patients, should cut waiting times but the one-off payment expires at the end of this financial year. It replaces a proposed $90 million plan over four years put in place by the former Labour federal government, which was dumped by the Coalition in the 2014-15 budget. The change was among then-treasurer Joe Hockey’s cuts to health care as the Coalition sought to cut the ballooning debt and deficit it inherited.

While welcoming the agreement — which has come after more than half the financial year has passed — Mr. Snelling called for a long-term solution rather than a one-off aid. “While we appreciate the federal funding to help ease waiting times, it is only a short-term fix,” he said. “We need long-term, sustainable funding arrangements for public dental services to ensure we can maintain consistent high-quality services for South Australians.”

Mr. Snelling said the deal had also been delayed, which he blamed on the Coalition focusing on internal leadership squabbles. “We are now in a situation where we are going to be able to help more people and clear lists but come six months, we will be back to square one,” he said. “This will be exacerbated by the expiry of public sector access to the Child Dental Benefits Schedule, which also occurs on June 30, 2016.”

Mr. Snelling has written to Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley expressing his concern over the agreement and asking for a long-term agreement. “Future uncertainty around Commonwealth funding agreements makes service planning very difficult,” he said. “It also makes it hard to attract and maintain appropriately trained clinical staff.”

Mr. Snelling’s letter notes that community expectation of ongoing access to public dental services has become “embedded” following investments by the Federal Government. Previous investments have seen waiting lists fall to historic lows, but these have jumped again in the past two years. He also noted long-term funding would allow an opportunity to test and then implement innovative models of care.

SA Health says there are now no waiting times or lists for emergency patients. “Patients seeking emergency treatment are triaged and offered appropriate and timely care based on their assessed emergency need,” it said in a statement.

However, for people seeking non-emergency treatment, the wait can be significant. At present, there are 32,130 people on the waiting list. The average waiting time across the state at the end of December was 12.4 months, although this varies from clinic to clinic. In Adelaide, the average waiting time for treatment is 12.5 months. – Brad Crouch, The Advertiser