More than 7000 Manawatu children and youth have not seen a dentist in more than a year – a problem that will take two years to remedy.
MidCentral District Health Board plans to prioritise which children need to be seen first, and who can wait, as it signals blanket annual checkups could be scrapped.
The service hit a “perfect storm” last year after four resignations, a mobile dental unit was damaged and a new digital record system was launched.
At the end of December, 8111 children and youth had not been seen for their annual checkups.
READ MORE: More than 8000 Manawatu children not seen by a dentist for more than a year
By March that had dropped to 7310.
Of that, 2225 children and adolescents have been waiting up to seven months beyond their 12-monthly appointment.
Most of the children and youth affected are in the Palmerston North city area.
MidCentral District Health Board member Barbara Robson said 19 months was a long time for children to be waiting.
The service had experienced a “perfect storm”, which caused the blowout.
She was nonetheless concerned.
Robson also questioned how staff would reduce the arrears at the current rate.
MidCentral child and adolescent oral health clinical director Phil Marshall said they would first target the children who had been waiting the longest.
Staff expected that several children would not be seen for more than 18 months, even as they worked to fix the problem.
Marshall said moving to an electronic system resulted in a “significant workload” and “significantly delayed work”.
“The result of that is arrears, which is uncomfortable for all of us.
“I think every DHB in the country has faced that.”
Marshall said the staff leaving had taken a toll.
He believed the problem had peaked and it would be reduced over the next two years.
Marshall said staff were working out which children were at the highest risk, so needed to be seen sooner, and those who didn’t need to be seen as often.
“We have to think about getting away from the 12-month recall process.”
The annual appointments were not appropriate for everyone, he said.
Child and adolescent oral health service manager Judy Boxall said they had recently had another resignation, adding to their difficulties.
She said it would be challenging to recruit at this time of year.
“It is a daunting task ahead, but our staff remain committed.”
Boxall said they normally made better progress as the year went on.
Staff would prioritise schools during the school term, according to a report put to MidCentral board members.
A questionnaire was also being considered to identify low-risk populations.
Those would only be seen every 18 months, rather than 12 months.
This would make it easier to see high-risk populations and reduce the backlog, the report said.