Dental health a political football

By DARREN COYNE

TRYING to get straight answers about public dental services in the Tweed electorate is like ... well, similar to pulling teeth.

With some Tweed residents understood to be waiting up to three years for treatment, dental services have emerged this week as a political football.

The Liberal/Nationals Coalition will today launch its Good Teeth, Good Health policy, which aims to provide an urgent injection of funds, more dentists and special attention to regional and rural areas.

The Daily News approached the North Coast Area Health Service yesterday and asked for accurate figures relating to the number of dentists operat- ing in the region, the number of patients waiting and the length of waiting lists.

Those enquiries were directed to Tweed MP Neville Newell's office, which admitted that "the Tweed public health dental service has been under increasing pressure since the Commonwealth withdrew funding in 1997".

Coincidently, the Coalition's policy document says: "Contrary to assertions by Labor there is no legal obligation for the Commonwealth to fund public dental care.

"State governments have traditionally funded public healthcare, yet the NSW Labor government is more interested in blameshifting and excuses than meeting its obligations," it says.

Meanwhile, the Coalition has promised to inject an ad- ditional $208.25 million into dental health over four years in order to reduce waiting lists, increase the pay for public dental professionals; provide dental internships and training; and to provide a mix of educational, training and policy development.

Mr Newell's office countered that the promises had been lifted straight from the Association for the Promotion of Oral Health dental lobby group's recent paper.

Mr Newell said 116,280 dental services had been provided by the North Coast Area Health 14 public clinics last financial year. Of those 12,984 people went though the Tweed clinic.

Mr Newell's office failed to say how many people were still waiting for treatment, and for how long.



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