LCHS denies extra funds

AS the call intensifies for funds to fix Latrobe Valley’s growing public dental waiting lists, Latrobe Community Health Service has flatly denied State Government claims of boosted funds.

In response to recent LCHS warnings a dental crisis loomed in the Latrobe Valley, in part due to reduced State Government support, a spokesperson for the government said funding cut claims were “incorrect” and instead LCHS had been allocated $691,861 “over and above the base budget”.

LCHS chief executive officer Ben Leigh, who told The Express funding reductions had seen public dental waiting lists grow from eight months to 18 months in the Valley, refuted suggestions of increases and released figures showing more than $500,000 had been taken from the service in the past year.

“In 2010/11 Dental Health Services Victoria provided $3,593,769 to operate our dental services and in 2011/12 this figure was $3,017,376,” he said.

Reduced funding meant that while LCHS was currently taking around 200 referrals a month to its public dental list, it could remove only 20 per month, Mr Leigh said.

“LCHS would be keen to explore any opportunity for the provision of additional funding for dental services, particularly funding to reduce the increasing waiting lists in Gippsland,” he said.

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe said he was concerned local waiting lists were growing, adding “we obviously need to have conversations about how we can tackle that”.

“Any notion of expanding lists warrants further attention so I will have that conversation with LCHS and the health minister,” Mr Northe said.

He said the State Government had allocated LCHS funding to “make sure there are adequate dental chairs and professionals being recruited and retained” locally.

Mr Leigh said the Gippsland Oral Health Consortium was “having more success getting dentists and therapists” to the region, but funding was required to “back that up”.

State Health Minister David Davis recently supported local warnings that public patients could be worse off under the Federal Government’s $4 billion dental plan announced in August, due to the withdrawal of two Medicare-funded programs.

He said the “cruel axing” of the Chronic Diseases Dental Scheme from December this year would “increase pressure on State Government clinics, that are already under pressure, to take up the shortfall”.

Mr Leigh had earlier predicted scrapping the CDDS, at least 18 months before a replacement program was to be funded, could trigger a crisis in the Valley.

He also called for an urgent announcement from the Federal Government on when it would deliver the $525 million ‘waiting list blitz’ money promised in the last Federal Budget, saying LCHS had not yet seen a cent of it.