Dental waiting list to rise as jobs go from LCHS

Latrobe Community Health Service says its dental waiting list is expected to rise, following the announcement of staff redundancies.

On Friday, the health service announced up to 16 full-time equivalent jobs would go including dental assistant, dental technician, dental prosthetist, counsellor and administration positions.

It is understood up to eight FTE positions will go from the dental sector, five from corporate and administration, and 1.5 FTE roles in the counselling department, which would affect three workers.

LCHS chief executive Ben Leigh cited changes to state and federal government funding for the decision to shed staff, in particular the deferral of round two of the National Partnership Agreement by a year.

“It was always anticipated the second round would commence in July 2014, that has been deferred by the Federal Government until July 2015,” Mr Leigh said.

“We had built up our workforce in anticipation for the funding to continue, unfortunately it hasn’t.”

Mr Leigh said the first round of the National Partnership Agreement funding had enabled LCHS to bring its dental waiting list down to about three months.

“It would be fair to say for people with a non-urgent tooth, the waiting list might start to increase gradually,” he said.

“For urgent dental issues they will be seen at the next available appointment and for children, because there’s a new Federal Government child dental benefits scheme, which started this year, we’ll be making the most of that.”

Mr Leigh said the health service had made a concerted effort to reduce the dental waiting list; six years ago the wait was up to five years.

He said the State Government’s recommissioning of alcohol and drug services had contributed to LCHS’s decision to cut administrative roles.

“We were successful in getting most of the drug and alcohol services, but intake and access was given to a statewide provider,” Mr Leigh said.

He said in regard to the counselling department, LCHS had identified it was overstaffed.

“Sixteen jobs is the worst-case scenario. We would hope it’s less than that and we would look at redeploying within the organisation where we can,” Mr Leigh said.

“When additional money does become available we’re hoping to be able to ramp up again quickly.”

Attempts by The Express to contact the Australian Services Union were unsuccessful.

Mr Leigh said LCHS would engage with relevant unions.

Labor candidate for Morwell Jadon Mintern said the situation was “another example of the Coalition’s neglect of local people, families and communities” who were facing rising costs of living, high unemployment and cuts to healthcare, education and training.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester confirmed the partnership agreement had been deferred, but said there would still be a “flow of funding” from when stage one ends and stage two begins.

“Negotiations with the states and territories regarding the details of NPA 2 are in the early stages, so it would be premature to assume what funding will be available under that envelope,” Mr Chester said.

He said he would continue to advocate on behalf of LCHS to secure further funding opportunities.

“I’m keen to work with the relevant ministers and Latrobe Community Health Service to maintain the excellent services they provide to the community.”

State Community Services and Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge said the recommissioning of drug and alcohol treatment programs came about in response to calls for change from within the sector.

She said the changes would provide the community with streamlined and centralised access to treatment services and organisations would be supported by more flexible funding arrangements.