Feedback from three frontline community dental managers on the value of the National Partnership Agreement for Dental Health
The Victorian Oral Health Alliance (VOHA) is a group of key professional, welfare and consumer organisations and providers, committed to improving Victorians’ oral health and access to dental care.
VOHA recognises the importance of the NPA Adult Public Dental Service funding. While this funding is crucial in meeting the oral health demands of some Victorians there is also a clear need for a more adequately funded and resourced model to meet access demands.
VOHA asked some of its public oral health care providers whether the NPA made a difference to their services and clients. These are representative of their responses.
COVID has put an enormous strain in the public system, we are still struggling to clear the back log of postponed treatment from 2020. Our waiting list has grown as much as another 12 months.
Our waitlist numbers and waiting times were significant pre COVID-19 – now it’s just ridiculous.
Relying on already strained and under-resourced public dental health system means that individuals are waiting for many months for urgent oral care, and years for basic oral care. Often by which time their disease has progressed much further than was necessary and potentially compromising their overall general health wellbeing.
Effectively [our community health service] has over 12,000 people waiting for general dental care, all the while their oral health status is deteriorating because of how long it takes to be seen. In the last 13 months:
General Waitlist numbers have grown by 15% (+1,514 clients to 11,068) from Feb 2020 to Mar 2021.
Average waiting time has grown by 43%, up from 19.6 months to 28.1 months (+ 8.5 months)
Priority Denture Waitlist numbers have grown by 7.4% (+71 clients to 1,027). Average waiting time has grown by 121%, up from 4.7 months to 10.5 months (+4.7 months)
Sorry [if frustration shows]… but it’s where I’m at in relation to trying to manage a service with such a significant demand and insufficient funding.
The impact of post COVID-19 demand on dental services is significant. Thousands of people have had care delayed and a greater proportion of clients are seeking emergency care due to putting things off, delays in the availability of routine care and deterioration of their oral health.
Keeping the National Partnership Agreement funding in our service means:
- Retention of 1.4 EFT of skilled clinical staff (plus Dental Assistant workforce at same EFT)
- Allows approximately 1000 additional clients to be seen each year
- Allows CDAs to target waiting lists, preventative care and disease stabilisation initiatives.
Lastly, there was a plea for consistent and reliable funding because of difficulties services face when funding fluctuates, e.g. in managing demand, recruiting and retaining staff etc. For example ‘whilst the public dental sector would be appreciative of a short-term NPA funding boost in 2021-22 to combat the surge in demand‘, it will also mean a ‘heightened demand’ return in 2-3 years as the same clients seek re-entry into services.
Similarly, without the use of cost-prohibitive after-hours sessions or vouchered care, community dental clinics will struggle to meet a surge in care provision without consideration for additional clinical chair resources and longer-term reform.
A more measured approach with consideration for longer-term funding reform, commitment to NPA funding and growth; is more likely to yield positive, sustained health outcomes in the medium to longer term.