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Govt accused of ‘cruel hoax’ on dental

The Federal Government has been accused of playing a “cruel hoax” on patients after confirming $200 million had been provided for public dental services in the Budget.

In a pre-Budget release, Health Minister Sussan Ley announced a one-off allocation of $155 million for a 12-month National Partnership Agreement on Adult Public Dental Services, supplemented by a child dental benefit scheme that would take to the total value of the package to more than $200 million.

But the Budget papers show the Government has actually cut $125.6 million from funding for child dental services over the next four years by lowering the rate at which it is indexed.

Ms Ley said the provision of public dental services would be considered as part of reforms of federal-state relations, and the funding would ensure care continued to be provided while those discussions were held.

“Real progress has been made in recent years towards improving access to dental services, and the Abbott Government is determined to ensure Australia continues to improve as a nation, which is why we must take hold of this once-in-a-generation opportunity for constructive reform,” the Minister said. “We want to see dental incorporated into our plans for a better integrated health system where services work in co-operation, not isolation.”

But Shadow Health Minister Catherine King condemned the Minister’s statement as “no more than a cruel hoax”.

Ms King said that, far from investing in public dental services, the Government had cut hundreds of millions of dollars out.

In last year’s Budget, the Government announced it would save $390 million over four years by deferring the starting date of the National Partnership Agreement for adult public dental services by a year, and in last year’s Budget, $200 million had been allocated for such services in 2015-16.

But this was trimmed back to just $155 million in the latest Budget, disappointing health advocates concerned about poor oral health, particularly among vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

Ms King said the figures showed that the Government had actually cut money from public dental health, rather than investing in it.

Dental health problems are widespread in the community. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has reported that more than half of 12-year-old children have tooth decay, and it is untreated in about 30 per cent of adults.

Ms Ley said the failure of people to care for their teeth not only harmed the health of their mouth, but placed a significant burden on the health system.


Adrian Rollins