31 July 2023

Travel subsidy called for as Weipa goes one year without a permanent dentist

| Matt Nicholls
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The Weipa Hospital hasn’t had a permanent dentist for more than a year, with locums filling gaps when they can be sourced.

The Weipa Hospital hasn’t had a permanent dentist for more than a year, with locums filling gaps when they can be sourced.

GOING to the dentist is a task that most of us dread at the best of times – but doing so in Weipa just simply isn’t an option.

It’s been more than a year since the Weipa hospital has had a permanent dentist and there appears to be no fix in sight.

The impact is profound, says local pharmacist Sam Harbison, who has been doing his best to provide relief to those suffering.

“Since we haven’t had a full-time dentist here the prescriptions for dental pain has gone up, as well as the uptick in sales for paracetamol,” he said.

“I’ve had more people come in for dental pain than any other time in my five years here.

“It’s people of all ages, too. Teeth don’t discriminate.”

Mr Harbison said he could only provide limited pain relief and sympathised with those who were struggling.

“It can be quite debilitating,” he said of oral pain.

“It affects your ability to function and your sleep changes and your diet changes.

“I had one bloke in here not that long ago who was almost in tears because he couldn’t afford to take time off work and fly to Cairns to see a dentist.”

Weipa Town Authority chair Michael Rowland said that the state government should provide a travel subsidy for those needing dental care.

“At the moment, dental care is not covered by the patient travel scheme,” he said.

“I have raised it with them before and asked why it’s not classed like other medical travel appointments.

“In my view, if they can’t provide the service at the hospital, then they should provide a travel subsidy so you can get treated elsewhere.”

Mr Rowland said the cost of getting an appointment in Cairns could add up to the thousands of dollars for families once travel and accommodation were added to the total.

“I understand that it’s hard to get qualified staff in some places and I’d love to see a private dentist start up in Weipa, but there are things that could help in the meantime and that is adding dental appointments to the patient travel scheme.

The Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service said it was trying to recruit another full-time dentist to Weipa.

“Weipa Integrated Health Service has been without a permanent dentist for more than a year, despite extensive and ongoing recruitment efforts,” said Dr Deborah Cockrell, TCHHS’s director of oral health.

“We have been able during that time to source locum dentists to deliver services.

“However, even sourcing locums has become increasingly difficult in recent times, and we have not had a locum in Weipa since April.

“We recently have been able to source a short-term locum dentist who will arrive in Weipa on Monday (July 31) and be in place for about three weeks.

“A week after that, we will have an oral health therapist arriving for three weeks, who will be able to do cleans and fillings for adults and some other treatments.”

Dr Cockrell said some dental services were available in Weipa for children.

“We already have two dental therapists in Weipa who provide some treatments for children,” she said.

“When there is no dentist available, emergency care is available from a non-dentist medical officer through the emergency department at Weipa Integrated Health Service.

“There is a nationwide shortage of dentists and especially dentists wishing to work in the public sector and in a remote area.

“We will continue to work to source further locum dentist cover for Weipa while we recruit for a permanent dentist.

“We apologise to Weipa residents for the inconvenience and are doing our best to recruit.”

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