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Apology for woman left with no teeth for 17 months

All Smiles, Donelle Collier from Kaleen with her new dentures.

All Smiles, Donelle Collier from Kaleen with her new dentures. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

ACT Health has apologised for leaving a woman without teeth for 17 months after an administrative error kept her off the denture waiting list.

Donelle Collier had all her teeth extracted on August 21, 2012, after they started to rot as a side effect of her medications.

The 49-year-old made two calls to the department to check when she would get new teeth and two different staff members said they checked the waiting list and assured her she was moving up the queue. But she rang Health Minister Katy Gallagher's office in November 2013 and staff told her there had been a mistake and she was never put on the list.

''We want to sincerely apologise. It was an administrative oversight between two parts of our service … This led to incorrect information being provided to the client,'' an ACT Health spokeswoman said.

The average wait time for dentures in the ACT is eight months and talking about the period she spent without teeth makes Ms Collier cry.

''When people talk to me now I don't have a washer covering my mouth, or look down at the ground because I didn't want people to see that I was so hideous. I hated smiling and I didn't even want my grandchildren to look at me because they looked at me differently,'' Ms Collier said.

''When I got [my teeth] out my confidence went down hill. It was hard to eat. I could only have soft food.''

Her nutrition suffered and led to complications with her medical conditions. ''I've been a Warfarin taker for life - I've had blood clots in my lungs and my doctor he was worried about me because I got depression, I couldn't sleep and didn't want to go outside. He said I shouldn't be eating what I was eating.''

On Wednesday she received her dentures and is dreaming of biting into her first red delicious apple after 17 months of mashed vegetables, Weet-Bix, the white part of chicken and yoghurt.

Ms Collier said she would still be getting the run-around from ACT Health if she had not taken her complaint straight to the Chief Minister. ''I would have been waiting forever … it's unacceptable, they shouldn't lie to people.''

Ms Collier said she was speaking out because she was worried more people had been left off the waiting list but ACT Health said the problem had been fixed.

''The dental program has also reviewed its current administrative processes to ensure this does not happen again. We will remind all staff to follow up correspondence and ensure referral information is being sent to the appropriate departments. Doctors are now conducting monthly audits of clinics to ensure patient and appointment information is actioned appropriately.''

But even after the administrative error was fixed and Ms Collier got the paperwork for her dentures, she faced another hurdle.

She had to make a $222 co-payment.

''Being on a disability pension that's a lot of money. I went without food to live on for a fortnight to pay that.''

ACT Dental Prosthetists Association president Terry McHugh said he had seen two patients including Ms Collier in the past month who had waited more than a year for dentures.

While funding for the ACT Dental Health program has increased with federal funding, the costs incurred by The Canberra Hospital fell from $9.9 million in 2011-12 to $9.2 million in 2012-13. Mr McHugh said in the past Canberra dental labs were doing work for ACT Health but this has now slowed.

''We have 12 members who are contracted to ACT Health to see their patients. Yet we only see a trickle,'' Mr McHugh said. As The Canberra Times reported last week, wait times to see a public dentist in Canberra have fallen but patients are still waiting an average of more than seven months for denture fittings and four months for general treatment.

ACT Health figures show waiting times have improved markedly and are well down on the one-year wait for general treatment and 18-month interval patients faced for denture fittings in 2012, but consumer groups warned it was not good enough.

47 comments

  • This is a waste of tax payers money. Dental services are efficiently provided by the private sector. If we are to have public dental treatment it should only be using least cost options as training for new dentists.

    Commenter
    Not fair
    Date and time
    January 27, 2014, 9:57AM
    • Well what a mean spirited comment from Not Fair. Poor people are not allowed teeth then or have to be at the mercy of student dentists? Universal health care is a basic right - Our health system is already going down the American track where user pays. It is not the best system - read "So much for that" by Lionel Schiver. The yardstick of a civilized society is how it treats its most vulnerable - Was'nt it Scrooge who thought Tiny Tim should be allowed to die before he had his visits from the ghosts?

      Commenter
      Wendles
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 10:48AM
    • Universal health care is available in Australia but doesn't include elective procedures.
      The reality is that a set of clackers is what she gets when implants are what she needs.

      Commenter
      Glove Puppet
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 11:39AM
    • Wendels America is introducing Obama care where if you don't take out private health insurance you will be hit by a fine they realise it's unsustainable.

      Commenter
      Michael
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 12:09PM
    • Did you even read this article? A full set of dentures costs thousands! How could someone on a Dis. Pension ever afford to privately fund this expense, honestly you have not got a clue!

      Commenter
      really not fair
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 12:10PM
    • Christ! This woman has to make a choice between NOT EATING or paying for the freaking things?! And you don't think it should be even be an issue, as no privately run dental practice would be bothered to do the work. What kind of additional suffering should she go through to make shareholders happy? Any thoughts mate?

      Commenter
      Caffetierra Moka
      Location
      Sector 7-G
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 12:15PM
    • Sounds like you have a few thousand dollars to spare to warrant necessities like new dentures - seems like you have more money than sense. There are a lot of people who cannot afford these rediculous prices private dentists charge. That is why so many people have rotten teeth, they cannot afford the dental care they need unless you go on a waiting list for public care. Here in Queensland it can take up to 5 years for just normal dental care while it is 2 weeks for emergency treatment I would hate to think how long someone would have to wait up here for dentures. Not good enough.

      Commenter
      J.G.
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 12:38PM
    • Why are teeth any different from the rest of the body? Dentists should become part of the Medicare system. Tooth problems have serious implications for general health and particularly heart health.
      As for your 'waste of taxpayers money' comment, clearly you have no compassion for or understanding of people less well off than yourself. Health care for all is a basic element of a well-functioning society. How about walking in other people's shoes for a bit and see how you would like it.

      Commenter
      Mardi
      Location
      Tuggeranong
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 12:52PM
    • Well they have to practice on someone, might as well be on people getting something for nothing. Same as student doctors in hospitals. So what if someone wants a full set of implants though the public system, is that universal health care? Didn't think so. Public dental should provide fillings, extractions and basic dentures when recommend by a medical Dr.

      Commenter
      Not fair
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 1:16PM
    • Wow - that's expensive. I put up with all sorts of crap in a job so I don't have to depend on charity controlled by imbeciles. I don't feel like eating either when hearing my taxes are paying for this!

      Commenter
      Payback
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 27, 2014, 11:52PM

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