More money, more measures

The Commonwealth has recently announced it will fund a ‘blitz’ on public dental waiting lists and introduce the long-awaited NDIS as part of the 2012/13 Federal Budget.

Above: Logo of the ‘Every Australian Counts’ campaign, which helped get the NDIS over the line in the 2012/13 Federal Budget.

By Yasmin Noone

Around 400,000 Australians are expected to benefit from a federal government blitz on public dental waiting lists and a $515 million dental funding package in the 2012/13 Federal Budget.

The good news arrived on Sunday, as Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, added her name to the list of government ministers who made an early announcement about spending measures to be included in this year’s surplus budget.

Minister Plibersek said the new four-year funding stream will direct vital health dollars to additional training to help boost the public dental service workforce, and improve dental infrastructure in regional, rural and remote areas.

The package will increase the number of Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program placements from 50 to 100 placements per year by 2016, at a cost of $35.7 million over three years.

More than $45 million over four years will be directed towards a new Oral Health Therapist graduate program that will give placement opportunities, with a focus on public dental services, to 50 new graduates each year from 2014.

Services in the bush will also be strengthened by a new grants program to encourage and help dentists relocate to regional, rural and remote areas, at a cost of $77.7 million over four years.

The package does not however include the universal Denticare scheme and the funding announced is not as much as what the health sector was hoping to receive.

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) has thanked the Commonwealth for funds. But, it said, the initiatives alone will not redress the extent of oral health disadvantage that exists across Australia.

“What has been outlined is a fraction of what is needed to address Australia’s dental health shortfalls,” ADA president, Dr Shane Fryer, said.

“However it does create a solid foundation for the ongoing improvement of the oral health of Australia’s disadvantaged.

“…The provision of funding to bolster the public dental services will help to reduce the waiting lists that cause some Australians to wait years for access to a dentist. However, with 85 per cent of dentists in private practice, the Australian Government will need to look at a range of measures to allow patients to access services outside the public system.”

Dr Fryer said that improvements in infrastructure and the employment of more dentists and other dental practitioners in this sector will hopefully permit those Australians on waiting lists to access dentists in a more timely fashion.

State, territory and Commonwealth governments, he added, will need to work together and not to revert to the ‘blame game’ to ensure the additional investment is used to actually deliver services.

The ADA stated it is also supportive of the government’s investment in oral health promotion and of the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program expansion but it cautions the government to carefully examine the progress of the program before expanding it “too widely”.

According to an AAP article, an Australians Greens/Labor deal made earlier this year guaranteed that dental funding would be included in this year’s budget.

To secure $165 million for existing state public dental programs, the Greens supported a Labor move to increase in the penalty paid by wealthier Australians who don’t take out private health insurance.

NDIS success

Last week the Prime Minister also announced that a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will start from July 2013 in up to four locations across the country.

As part of the new scheme, the government plans to help 10,000 people with significant and permanent disabilities from mid-2013, and provide 20,000 people with support by July 2014.

Young people with very high and complex care needs, and those living in nursing homes have been identified as a priority group for the NDIS.

“For the first time in Australia’s history people with significant and permanent disability will receive lifetime care and support, regardless of how they acquired their disability,” the PM said in a joint press release with the Minister for Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin.

“An NDIS will give all Australians with a significant disability the peace of mind to know that their care and support needs will be addressed, no matter where they live or how they acquired their disability.”

The PM said it will fund its “share” of the cost of the initial stage of the NDIS in the May Budget.

A new National Disability Transition Agency, funded by the Australian Government, will be established to run the delivery of care and support to people with disability, their families and carers in the select locations.

“…The initial launch locations will be determined in consultation with the states and territories – who have all agreed their shared responsibility for the fundamental reform of disability care and support.

“The work done at these launch locations will give the government vital information on how best to progress the national roll-out.”

The Australian Medical Association (AMA), which has been pushing for a national long-term care scheme for the severely disabled since 2003, welcomed the NDIS announcement.

AMA president, Dr Steve Hambleton, said the NDIS will provide fairness, equity, and a better quality of life for people with a disability, their families, and their carers.

“The NDIS is an investment in the future and in the quality of the lives of people with disabilities,” Dr Hambleton said.

“It will allow people to participate in daily life and in the community in a more productive and positive way.

“The NDIS is transformational reform for the benefit of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

He said the AMA is preparing to work closely with the government in developing and implementing the National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS) for people who are severely injured and require the same levels of support.

“Over time, there is scope for both schemes to be integrated so that all Australians have access to early intervention and support, based on need, regardless of the cause or type of disability.”

Tags: ada, ama, budget, dental, dentists, disability, every-australian-counts, gillard, hambleton, jenny-macklin, ndis, plibersek, pm,

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