Financial constraints prompt dental cuts
Government dental services have been scaled back temporarily due to financial constraints, the Department of Health said yesterday.
The Oral Health section of the Department provides dental health services for school-age children, special patients, prisoners and seniors.
But, as revealed in The Royal Gazette yesterday, the service is only available for existing clients and emergencies.
There are usually four dentists working out of the Hamilton Health Centre, Somerset Health Centre and St George's Health Centre.
The service to new patients was cut off 11 days ago and three dentists are trying to cover a large backlog of work before two of them end their tenure, leaving just one.
A department spokesman said the Bermuda Government was “actively seeking” a locum to help to ease the strain on the remaining dentist.
The recruitment process to fill the vacancies had been approved but it could take up to a year to get staffing levels back up to full capacity.
The spokesman said: “Avoiding gaps between employment of all clinical staff has been the continuous goal, but the reality of hiring freezes, due process involved in recruitment and approvals, and the career choices of incumbents, means gaps are sometimes unavoidable. This is compounded when overseas recruitment is required which prolongs the process further.
“We are conscious of the impact on patients and every individual at the front line and behind the scenes is working tirelessly to remedy the situation within the constraints of the existing economic environment.
“The Department of Health is actively seeking a locum and anticipates to have one full-time locum and one part-time.
“The department is restricted in its ability to fill all the positions but has worked tirelessly to meet patients' needs with limited resources.
“In the interim, urgent cases will take priority.”
The spokesman said there was “no guarantee that immediate replacements will be available to take over the work”.
Some 8,000 people use the government-funded dental service although active use varies. Last year there were 4,434 visits to the dental clinics and 2,358 screenings, not including health fairs.
At the last count, there were 504 patients on the waiting list. Most of these were children — 37 were special patients and 87 were seniors.
The service has been taking patients off the waiting list to see the new dentist, when possible.
The spokesman said: “There are people who come to the clinic but are ineligible for the service.
“However, for some time, of those who are eligible we have been encouraging some to go to private practice when they have insurance coverage. The Hamilton Health Clinic does not have access to any kind of financial assessment.
“Every effort has been made to meet the most pressing patient needs with limited resources, and we believe the public can appreciate Bermuda's economic reality and the impact of the fiscal space on service provision.
“With respect to the dental services, the ministry is seeking to put in place a service complement within the reality of recruitment and approval processes.”
The waiting period for routine oral health services could be as long as six to eight months.
The department advises: “In patients' best interests, where the family has insurance, it is advisable to seek services through a private practice rather than the government clinic at this time.
“This would alleviate pressure on stretched services.
“The public is reminded that from September 1, 2015, parents on HIP will be able to put their children on HIP at a lower premium designed for dependents.
“Priority is being given to eligible patients who, upon triage, are determined as requiring urgent or emergency care. If an emergency should arise notify the dental clinic or contact a private practitioner.”