Plea for long-term funding for dental care in Waikato

10:01 am on 2 September 2022

South Waikato retired dentist Sue Cole who runs a free service for those who can't afford care is appealing to the government for more funding.

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Many of Sue Cole's patients haven't seen a dentist since they were at school. Photo:

She was a member of a delegation of local councillors, iwi and business groups from the region who have travelled to Wellington to ask for more funding and investment.

Cole is the head of Trinity Koha Dental Clinic, a mobile shipping container that visits vulnerable communities offering free dental care.

Most of her patients in South Waikato were Māori and all were in pain, she said.

"Many of them have had pain for one year, two years, ten years. Most of them haven't seen a dentist since they were at school.

"Basically we're seeing a lot of pain and that can result in swelling, it can result in irritability, low self esteem," Cole said.

Trinity Koha is run by a group of volunteer dentists, who average around 100 patients a week between two dentists.

Cole said the region needed more dentists and oral therapists in schools around the area.

She said long-term investment from the government in South Waikato would be life-changing.

"I would see it as ongoing care for patients. We can treat the emergency; we can't treat everything that's needed. A lot of patients do need ongoing funding and so that would be wonderful and what we see in some of our patients has been life-transforming."

She along with others met MPs at Parliament last night asking for some long-term investment and collaboration.

South Waikato's population is 25,000 people, but despite showing exceptional growth it's still the fifth most deprived region in Aotearoa.

Paniora Daniels runs a programme called WORKit helping hundreds of rangatahi under the age of 25 into jobs. He said funding was a huge barrier for them.

He said it could take up to 15 months to set up a pilot programme and then decide on a strategy to solve an issue.

"The problem there is that you don't know if you're going to be paid for the next financial year or if you can plan for two to three years," Daniels said.

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Adrian Rurawhe. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

WORKit is only funded a year at a time which Daniels said was not sustainable because a lot of its projects were over three to 10 years.

"Because that's where we're going to see the big differences are after the five-year mark and then 10 years and then we can move to another place that's in need."

Newly appointed Speaker and MP for Te Tai Hauāuru Adrian Rurawhe spoke with the group.

He has promised to try and get help and look for opportunities to invest in growth and jobs.

"Two of the biggest producers of tree harvesters are based in Tokorua, 95 percent of their products are shipped overseas so they are definitely adding to the GDP of New Zealand. I think with some co-investment , we can actually lift those opportunities," Rurawhe said.

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