Health groups warn of public backlash

A COLLECTIVE of six peak health and social services organisations are warning the public will be “unforgiving” if the State Government, along with other states, fail to agree on a public dental funding deal with the Federal Government.

The main local provider of public dental services Latrobe Community Health Service recently said it was waiting on Federal Government funds as part of its $525 million “waiting list blitz” announcement in the last budget.

According to a media release from numerous national organisations including the Australian Dental Association and the Australian Council of Social Service last week, if state governments do not maintain their financial contribution to oral health at 2010-11 levels, federal money will not flow.

“The losers will be the low income adults who have been missing out on dental care for so long,” a spokesperson for the six organisations said in a statement.

“Dental care is one of the most under-funded areas of the Australian health systems, but hopes for a much better dental care system are being severely threatened by states refusing to accept the Federal Government’s offer of very large increases in funding.”

The spokesperson said the organisations intended to “make every effort to see that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to put right a serious health inequity is not missed”.

It was understood the Council of Australian Governments met on Friday to deliberate on the issue.

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe said while he was not involved in “intimate discussions” on higher levels, he and State Health Minister David Davis met with LCHS chief executive Ben Leigh recently to discuss the urgent need for extra funds to help tackle existing waiting lists in the region.

Mr Northe said the minister was aware of the growing waiting lists.

In response to fears expressed by national groups that state governments could reduce their own dental funding in light of new federal funds, Mr Northe said he did not “believe that’s the case at all, that the states would downgrade (their oral health contribution levels).”

“From my own conversations with the minister, (he) is acutely aware of the concerns about lists here in the region and is steadfast we want to resolve it,” Mr Northe said.

“In recent conversations with LCHS and the minister, it was unclear if even a portion (of ‘blitz’ funds) would be dedicated to public (providers) as distinct to private… one would hope those negotiations would be near completion.

“The blitz money will be well-received, I can assure you, but we do need community health organisations such as LCHS to have access to it… they are well-equipped and qualified to (manage it).”

Mr Northe said he was “well-aware” of the potential challenges posed by the recent closure of the (Federal) Chronic Diseases Dental Scheme, which meant more local patients would be likely to now seek dental care from the public system.

The CDDS closed last Friday.