CATE FAEHRMANN [6.49 p.m.]: Today I address the House on the ever-expanding dental health needs of the people of New South Wales that have been habitually neglected by both State and Federal governments. As of May 2010, there were more than 120,000 people on public dental waiting lists in New South Wales. Over 25,000 of these were children. Sydney west has the second highest waiting list overall and the highest number of children awaiting treatment. This is unacceptable. Oral health is one of the areas of greatest health inequity in New South Wales. People from the lowest socioeconomic groups have fewer teeth, are more likely to have teeth missing, and have poorer oral health outcomes than other groups. In rural and regional areas, people are more likely to have tooth decay and more likely to have no natural teeth, and have less frequent check-ups and fewer preventative treatments compared with urban residents. Aboriginal people suffer significantly higher levels of gum disease and tooth decay, and have greater numbers of missing teeth than the general population.
The majority of oral disease and tooth loss is preventable. A major barrier to addressing dental needs is the provision of preventative or timely dental services. It is abhorrent that the Government fails to provide services that will prevent deterioration in long-term dental health. Surveys conducted between 1994 and 2008 show that just one in two adults made a dental visit in the 12 months before each survey and that in 2008 more than 34 per cent of adults reported that they had avoided or delayed dental care due to cost. Current public sector dental health services are only able to provide episodic service in crisis situations. The public service does not have the capacity to provide follow-up or early intervention and prevention care, which is essential to stop patients’ dental health deteriorating to the point where they require much more painful and expensive crisis care. Between 1989-90 and 2004-05, the rate of hospitalisation for the removal or restoration of teeth in persons aged over 15 years increased by 58.1 per cent and hospitalisation rates for the removal or restoration of teeth among children under the age of five years increased by 68.8 per cent. Hospitalisation rates for the removal or restoration of teeth among children aged five to 14 years increased by 122.9 per cent over the same period.
This is a State responsibility. New South Wales has the lowest public dental funding per capita of any State or Territory. The New South Wales Government will spend just $23.45 per capita on public dental services in 2010-11. There has been no real increase in the New South Wales oral health budget for a number of years. In 2010-11 the budget was $169.4 million, an increase of $5.9 million from the previous year due to Commonwealth Closing the Gap funding. While the Federal Government dithers about introducing a comprehensive dental health scheme and effectively cuts current dental funding the State Government must take action to address the dental needs of the people of South Wales. In the last budget the Federal Government announced that it would be ending funding for the Medicare Chronic Dental Disease Scheme on 31 December 2011 and redirecting funds to a Commonwealth Dental Health Program to be implemented in 2012-2013. Not only does this mean that the Federal Government will be leaving a hole in funding for dental services between 1 January 2012 and 1 July 2012, but also the funds that have been allocated for this program are significantly less than under the Medicare Chronic Dental Disease Scheme.
In 2009-10 over 2.3 million dental services were provided to patients in New South Wales under the Chronic Dental Disease Scheme. According to the 2011 budget papers, proposed funding to New South Wales for a “National Partnership on Commonwealth Dental Health Program” will provide $93 million over three years. In comparison, over the first nine months of the current financial year a total of approximately $276 million has been paid for the treatment of patients under the Chronic Dental Disease Scheme. In essence, this will be a funding shortfall of between $240 million and $279 million. As a result of this reduction in funding it is inevitable there will be increasing pressure on public dental services provided by the New South Wales Government, which will increase waiting lists and mean that even more people in this State will miss out on the dental care they need. The New South Wales Government must implement a short-term solution to mitigate the impact on public dental services until an agreement on Commonwealth reform is reached in 2012-13.