Page 2795 - Week 07 - Thursday, 7 June 2012

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Health—dental health waiting times

Statement by minister

MR BARR (Molonglo—Deputy Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation), by leave: Pursuant to a resolution of the Assembly of 2 May 2012, and on behalf of the Chief Minister, I am providing an update to the Assembly explaining reasons why the mean waiting time for adults for ACT Health’s dental services is 12 months.

The Health Directorate accountability indicator target for the mean waiting time for adult clients on the dental services waiting list is 12 months. This target has been met over several years and continues to be met with the April 2012 year to date mean waiting time of 11.91 months. This target is set at 12 months but it is important to note that the 12-month waiting period refers to clients who are suffering no obvious dental symptoms. Patients suffering from dental symptoms are assessed by the dental health program’s triage system, with all clients triaged as an emergency seen within 24 hours.

This target is set at 12 months for clients requiring routine dental treatment. For people with urgent needs or requiring targeted care, dental treatment time frames are individually assessed and access is based on clinical need. In addition, clients clinically assessed with dental conditions which affect their general health and wellbeing are exempt from waiting on the public list. In child and youth public dentistry, clients are placed on a recall system determined specifically for each client based on a risk assessment. This recall can range from six to 18 months.

The adult dental program has historically used standard waiting lists in the same way as other jurisdictions. The dental health program has been investigating a recall system for adults. Evidence suggests that recalls can range from six to 24 months based on their oral health status. Moving public dentistry in the ACT towards a preventative and clinically effective approach to oral health requires funding, workforce and infrastructure, but would help improve the overall health status of low income clients.

The dental health program also has a range of memorandums of understanding with external stakeholders which facilitate clients with a high dental clinical need being seen with little or no waiting time. These access pathways relate to homeless people, new refugees, clients participating in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, clients of the Winnunga Nimmityjah health service, and clients with disabilities and some chronic conditions. Recall interventions are initiated for particular client groups resulting in a preventative focused oral health service rather than a reactive service.

There are many reasons for the mean waiting time for dental treatment to be 12 months. Dentistry is a very labour intensive part of the healthcare system and to fulfil the needs of the population there is a requirement for a steady flow of new graduates. Workforce shortages have been experienced in dentistry for many years, with the number of new graduates falling short of the demand. This has placed significant pressure on the public sector in competing with the private sector for available staff.

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