An announcement last year by Mrs. Gemma Hussey, Minister for Education, on future developments in Third Level Education in Ireland, included a decision to build a new Dental School in Dublin. The plans for this new development include facilities for training 50 dentists per year (as compared with the present 35). As well, facilities for continuing education and postgraduate training of dentists, together with provision for training of any dental auxiliaries which may be recommended by the New Dental Council, have been provided for in the plans for the New Dental School.
The cost of this development according to the Minister is £17 million. This contrasts with the 2.9 million cost of the New Dental School in Cork, which was opened in 1983 (both costs at present-day prices). The decision to allocate this extraordinary level of expenditure on dental teaching facilities in Dublin at this point in time should be reconsidered for the following reasons:
1. Improving Dental Health
In the past 20 years, in common with other developed countries, there has been a vast improvement in the dental health of the population of Ireland. Results of the recent National Survey of Childrens Dental Health, funded by the Department of Health (1984), showed that there has been a dramatic decline in the level of dental decay in Irish schoolchildren in the past 20 years. For example 50 per cent of 5 year-old children of the Eastern Health Board area are now free of dental decay.
In Europe, U.S., Canada and other developed countries the response to this improvement in dental health has been to cut back on dental training facilities. For example, in Holland 2 of the 5 dental schools have been closed; in the U.K. one dental school has been closed and an overall 10% cut in dental student intake has been implemented. Similar cutbacks have been implemented in dental teaching facilities in most other developed countries. The decision to expand dental education facilities in Ireland, is completely at variance with what is happening in other developed countries.
2. Allocation of Resources for Dental Education
Dental education is under financed in Ireland at present. The current annual running costs of the two Dental Schools is as follows:
Both schools train 35 dentists each year.
Rather than spend £17 million on building an enormous building in Dublin, the Government should construct a building of the same size as the new school inCork. The resulting combined training capacity of 60-65 dentists per year in the State is adequate for our needs. A recent dental manpower study conducted by the Dental Board confirmed this. The resulting saving of £114 million in capital cost and consequent running costs could be used to develop proper staffing in both schools and in the Health Board dental service.
3. Dental Services
The spending of £17 million on a new Dental School in Dublin contrasts starkly with the less than adequate funding for Dental Services. For example, there is no dental service at present for Medical Card Holders in most Health Boards. There have been no new dental posts in the Health Boards for the last five years. One recent post for a dental surgeon in the Southern Health Board attracted at least a dozen applicants.
4. Anglo-Irish Dimension
As part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement the Department of Education should start to look at Dental Education from an all - Ireland point of view. The dental education facilities of Cork, Dublin and Belfast should be taken into account, when planning needs for dental manpower in this island.
No Integrated Planning
There is evidence that planning for dental education in Ireland within the Department of Education is conducted in two separate offices for Dublin and Cork. The recent report on Dental Manpower by the former Dental Board, would certainly seem to have been ignored as have been the results of recent surveys of dental health in Ireland.
There is no doubt that the decision to construct an enormous Dental School in Dublin costing £17 million, needs to be reconsidered immediately. Having reconsidered the matter the Government will see that a more modest building in Dublin costing approximately 3 million is adequate for the needs of the country. The resultant saving of £14 million, as well as the saving in running costs will ensure that dental education can be provided in a rational and efficient manner.