The biggest dental deserts
FOR most people, trying to use public dental programs proves to be a very frustrating experience.
Waiting lists in NSW have bounced back from their all-time high of almost 124,000 in the 2019-20 financial year to the lowest they’ve been in almost eight years.
This might sound impressive but keep in mind that these record low waiting lists still amount to 80,000 with 54,603 adults waiting for treatment and a further 25,425 waiting for assessment. This means their condition will be assessed and diagnosed then they’ll be given a priority code, added to the treatment list and start waiting all over again.
In 2020-21 this whole process took on average 16 months to get an appointment but for those with less serious conditions, the wait was up to around two and a half years!
But how do these waiting lists and the experience of accessing care vary depending on where you live?
CPSA has compiled a list of the waiting lists and public dental clinics available in each Local Health District to give you an idea of what you’re up against.
For those living in rural and remote NSW it won’t be any surprise that there isn’t exactly a wealth of options when it comes to public dental clinics.
Western NSW is the largest Local Health District spanning 247,000 square kilometres and servicing 276,000 people. Yet it only has five permanent adult clinics, three outreach clinics and a few more services run by partner organisations such as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and the Royal Flying Doctors Service.
The Far West district might not be as populous but is the next largest at 195,000 square kilometres. Over this whole area they only have one permanent clinic at Broken Hill and six others that operate less regularly.
Compare this to the Local Health District of Sydney that is only 126 square kilometres. This district has five permanent clinics and an additional specialist clinic.
Obviously metropolitan areas do have much larger populations and therefore a higher demand for services, but for people in these areas the waiting list is the biggest problem.
For those in rural areas, even once they have waited for months or years to finally get an appointment, they then need to find some way to reach the clinic.
Public transport is rarely an option with services being irregular at best and non-existent at worst.
Travel assistance for some medical appointments is available through the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme but unless you’re needing a specialised dental service or oral surgery, that isn’t an option either.
Which means driving yourself at your own expense is really the only option, which becomes an issue for those who are unable to drive for hours at a time or can’t afford the petrol costs for these long trips.
The Oral Health Fee for Service Scheme might offer a bit of relief for some. It provides vouchers to be used at private dental clinics when public clinics are too busy or too far away.
But once again this is far more useful to those in metropolitan areas.
The database of eligible private clinics shows far fewer options for rural areas and those in the Far West are out of luck again with no private dentists in the area accepting vouchers for adult general dental care.
If a service that’s supposed to be providing necessary medical care to those who otherwise can’t afford it isn’t even accessible to those it aims to help, something is seriously wrong.