Hopes that the implementation of the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Public Dental Health Services public dental waiting lists are being dashed, with waiting lists on the rise in New South Wales and Victoria. This is of particular concern as the NPA was designed to target the most needy patients—and according to an analysis of the statistics by the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), those are the patients who are missing out.
The National Partnership Agreement on Treating More Public Dental Patients (the Dental NPA) is a joint Commonwealth and state initiative that aims to deliver additional public dental services to eligible patients. The Dental NPA is focused on providing additional services to patients who are Aboriginal, at high risk of or from major dental problems, and patients living in rural and remote areas.
But in a recent blog post, VCOSS policy advisor Brooke McKail writes, “Waiting times for public dentistry have increased significantly in the last year. Despite success in reducing public dental waiting lists through the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Public Dental Health Services, the deferral of this agreement may be causing waiting times to grow again. In 2012-13 around 70 per cent of people waited more than one month for services. By 2013-14 this had risen to 83 per cent (the second highest percentage nationally).”
In New South Wales, under the National Partnerships Agreement, the state is able to receive up to $110.8 mill for providing additional public dental services between 4 February 2013 and 31 March 2015, and NSW public dental services use the Priority Oral Health Program for telephone triaging to prioritise access based on clinical need and socio-economic risk factors.
According to figures published by NSW Health, the waiting times for adult assessments and treatments have been creeping steadily upwards since the middle of 2013. While the wait lists for children’s assessments had dropped, the numbers receiving treatments have stayed roughly the same.
This is despite increasing recruitment of dental staff, increasing clinic hours and chair time, and an increase in the use of the private sector to help tackle the waiting lists.
On the Dept of Health website, it says: “At the end of December 2014 there were 3,281 children and 60,961 adults waiting for general dental treatment. Of the total number of children waiting general dental treatment 93.1% were within clinically acceptable benchmark times. Of the total number of adults waiting for general dental treatment 80.3% were within clinically acceptable benchmark times.”
The Victorian analysis, drawn from the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, also shows that good health and access to healthcare in Victoria remains unequal, and that the availability of public dental care is lower than in other states.
Writing on the VCOSS blog, Brooke McKail said, “(Oral disease) is experienced at a greater rate by people experiencing disadvantage, including Aboriginal people, people on low incomes and people in rural and regional areas.
“According to the report, Victoria has a lower rate of public dentists than the national average, at 6.2 per 100,000 Victorians. We also have the lowest rate of public dental hygienists and dental therapists.”