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Medical card patients in Galway have ‘given up’ going  to dentists

The medical card dental scheme is ‘falling apart’ in Galway, according to a government backbencher.

Galway West TD, Éamon Ó Cuív (FF) said people on low incomes were suffering excruciating toothaches because they cannot access routine dental care on their medical cards.

“At a time when there is unprecedented wealth, a simple service such as a medical card dental service does not seem to exist in any meaningful fashion.

“People have lost interest in going to the dentist due to a lack of appointments for medical card holders and not having any money to go privately.

“They are losing their teeth, their smiles and their confidence and it is also affecting their health,” said the former Minister.

Deputy Ó Cuív said he has been contacted by Galway Advocacy Council and Galway Brothers of Charity with “heartbreaking” stories about people with disabilities, including intellectual disability, being denied dental treatment.

They claimed that if they have not seen a dentist within a year, “you drop off their books”.

“In our constituency clinics, we meet all the time people with medical cards who cannot access routine, but vital, medical treatment,” said Deputy Ó Cuív.

He said roughly 100,000 people had medical cards in County Galway, and there were just 24 dentists on the scheme, who also had private patients.

“Each of those dentists has to cover 4,166 medical card patients in addition to private patients. That is clearly impossible and, therefore, we have a huge challenge,” he said.

Minister of State Joe O’Brien – on behalf of Health Minister Stephen Donnelly – said that fees to dentists on the medical scheme had increased by between 40% and 60% in 2022.

The services they provide annually and on-demand to medical card holders include an examination, advice, two fillings, emergency extractions and scale and polish.

Minister O’Brien conceded there were fewer contractors on the scheme in County Galway now than before the Pandemic but at 57, it was twice as many as claimed by Deputy Ó Cuív.

In 2022 more than 40,000 treatments were provided in County Galway at a cost of €2.23m. Last year, the number of treatments increased to 44,646, which cost €2.81m.

Despite this, the junior minister said Minister Donnelly was “aware that medical card holders in some areas continue to have difficulty accessing care”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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