In the lead up to the 2012-13 Federal Budget, the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF)—which represents over two million health consumers—is launching a new campaign to highlight the huge and growing crisis in public dental healthcare in Australia. CHF CEO Carol Bennett says the situation is deplorable. It is a national embarrassment that there is a public waiting list in Australia of at least 650,000 people, waiting for dental appointments with average wait times of over a year and a half to get any kind of help.
“More than 30 per cent of all adults and close to 47 per cent of concession card holders are delaying or avoiding dental treatment because of the cost. This is undoubtedly a crisis,” said Ms Bennett.
“We know the community is very concerned about this issue. There needs to be clear leadership from the Federal Government and commitment from State and Territory Governments. Something has gone badly wrong when you have nearly three quarters of a million Australians on a public waiting list with the national average wait time over two years,” she added.
CHF is calling on the Government to deal with the dental crisis through significant funding for dental reform in the forthcoming Federal Budget.
CHF’s campaign is based around the latest edition of its Health Voices journal which features contributions on the state of the nation’s teeth from Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Health Peter Dutton and Greens Health Spokesperson Senator Richard Di Natale, along with members of the Government’s National Advisory Council on Dental Health and leading voices from the community sector.
“The Federal Government should be prioritising those most in need who have the least ability to pay for dental care, and it should set up an effective targeted subsidy scheme,” said Ms Bennett.
“We could allow dental hygienists and therapists to expand their scope of practice. We could fund prioritised access to dental treatments for those who need it most, through targeted schemes. We could bring in more overseas trained dentists. We could invest more heavily in clinical registrar appointments in public hospitals, to create public hospital schools of excellence.”
“It is appalling that only 11 per cent of people actually receive any kind of treatment in any one year, said Ms Bennett. “In the past two years close to two million Australians in need of dental care missed out because they couldn’t afford it.”
CHF says that many people don’t realise that the most common health condition in Australia is tooth decay. Poor dental health has been linked to diabetes, stroke and cancer. A quarter of Australians report they deliberately avoid eating some foods because of poor dental health and the pain and discomfort it causes them.
Carol Bennett said, “These are huge hidden costs for the health system. The longer you wait to get treatment, the more damage is likely to happen to your health. It really is that simple. We’re talking about millions of dollars in lost productivity because people can’t work.
“Obviously another factor at play is the fact that we’ve got a population that is getting older and older and living longer. Many older Australians don’t have good dental health,” she added. “While the Government is keen to address aged care needs, we really need to ensure that dental forms part of the priorities for caring for older people.”
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