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Staff shortage prompts dental service cuts

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The three Government-funded dental clinics that subsidise services for children, seniors, prisoners and those with special needs has stopped taking on new patients amid staffing shortages.

The Hamilton Health Centre told The Royal Gazette that its services, used by some of the most vulnerable members of society, are only available on an emergency basis for the foreseeable future until more dentists are recruited.

At full capacity, there are four Government dentists working from the Hamilton Health Centre, Somerset Health Centre and St George’s Health Centre.

Three dentists are now trying to cover a large backlog of work before two of them end their tenure, leaving just one.

It is unclear whether the Department of Health is planning to bring in locums to help to ease the strain.

Single mother Susan Simons told how she was “blown away” after discovering that she could not get her five-year-old son a routine check-up — mandatory for him to transfer from preschool to primary school next month.

She said she was advised by the Hamilton Health Centre to take out insurance and use a private dental practice.

Ms Simons told The Royal Gazette: “My son attends Warwick Pre-School, who told me their screenings were done in February. I am a first-time mom here, I didn’t know. I called up Hamilton Health Centre and I was asked whether I had insurance. I am on HIP, which doesn’t cover children.

“I was told there are no dentists available now and, at the moment, there wasn’t a time frame they could give me for my son to be seen.

“I am going to pay out of my own pocket because I recognise the fact that it is so important.

“It is disheartening — I am a single mom doing everything by myself. I am going to have to break the bank and get private insurance so he can be fully covered.”

Martha Dismont, executive director of Family Centre, which cares for vulnerable families, said the move would add another financial burden on those already struggling.

“This is part of a larger picture that we are really concerned about, which is affordable healthcare,” she said. “When we have higher costs on top of reduced services, that is a double whammy.”

Mrs Dismont said she was also concerned about a lack of consultation by the Bermuda Government concerning the service issues.

“Government should advise the public well in advance so people can figure out what to do rather than suddenly being met with limited services and higher costs,” she said.

“It seems like there is a continued barrage of increased cost to the consumer.”

Charles Jeffers, of Age Concern, said the move “appeared to be a backdoor measure for Government to save expenditure”.

“We realise that Government has a wide variety of things to do, but certainly there must be somebody in charge of this very vital service?” he asked. “They must have been aware of what was happening. Are they using stalling tactics to save costs?

“If they can delay the appointments by three or four or six months, then they can make a significant saving.

“How long has Government been aware that this was happening, and what concrete steps are being taken to rectify it immediately?

“Seniors are getting hit all around — the lack of increase of pensions, increases in medical insurance, prescription costs, food prices are not stable, and at the same time the Government has not moved through the Human Rights Commission to stop discrimination in the workplace against seniors.

“Where do we go from here? Seniors are negatively affected once again.”

Asked what he thought about the advice given to take out insurance and use private practice, Mr Jeffers said: “That is an insult and another blow for seniors who are facing financial problems in just trying to get the basic health coverage. Now you want to add dental on to it?”

The Royal Gazette tried to contact the Prison Fellowship Bermuda for their take on the issue but could not get through by press time.

The Government was approached for comment but a response had not yet been received by press time last night.

Family Centre's Martha Dismont (File photograph)