The National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) welcomes the Federal Government's intention to thoroughly reform the funding system for dental health services in Australia.
In the meantime, however, it must be recognised that there is likely to be a reduced total amount of funding for oral and dental health. The trend in public spending is leading the wrong way.
The $155 million is a reduction on the $200m foreshadowed in the National Partnership Agreement announced by the previous Government, agreed with the States and Territories, and supported by the Coalition in its pre-election policy. Unfortunately that four-year commitment is now dead and buried.
The total investment mentioned by the Minister of "over $200m" for the coming financial year is comprised of $155m to the States/Territories to boost public dental services, plus at least $45m for continuation of services under the Children's Dental Benefit Schedule (CDBS).
This funding to the State and Territory agencies for another 12 months for services they provide under the CDBS is very welcome. But it is misleading to imply that there are increased funds overall for oral and dental health.
In the context of the review promised by the Minister, it will be important to refer to the National Oral Health Plan for 2015-2024. No monies have been committed as yet for its adoption. Much work has also been put into the National Oral Health Promotion Plan, for which $10m has been proposed by its advocates.
Funding security also needs to be provided to the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program and the Oral Health Therapist Graduate Year Program, both of which need money from 1 July 2015.
The NRHA has a special interest in the Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme (DRISS) which provides assistance for relocation and infrastructure for dentists in private practice to move to a more rural area than they are currently in. Dental care for aged pensioners is another issue which must be considered in the review.
It is imperative that the review of these various programs, in collaboration with States and Territories, is completed and all of the funding arrangements agreed well before 1 July 2016.
Poor oral health and poor access to the related services should have no place in an affluent nation like Australia.
Gordon Gregory (CEO)
02 6285 4660
Tim Kelly (Chairperson)
0438 011 383