The Oral Health Therapist Graduate Year Program (OHTGYP) was announced in the 2012-13 Budget, providing funding of $45.2 million over four years from 2012-13 to 2015-16. The measure covers the development, implementation and evaluation of the OHTGYP with funding provided for program design, graduate and mentor positions and infrastructure, which is essential to support graduate places.
The OHTGYP will provide Oral Health Therapist (OHT) graduates with a structured program for enhanced practice experience and professional development opportunities, whilst increasing the OHT workforce capacity, particularly in the public sector.
The OHTGYP was developed in recognition of the limitations in the public dental sector, partly due to the maldistribution of the workforce, and to support the Government’s commitments to address dental service delivery issues.
OHTs have skills to provide both dental therapy and dental hygiene services. However, approximately 93% of dental hygienists practise in the private sector and 58% of dental therapists work in school health services. In addition approximately 84% of hygienists and 61% of therapists practise in metropolitan areas1. This means the general public dental system is not fully benefiting from this workforce. There is scope to improve the utilisation of OHTs in the general public sector which will improve service delivery capacity, promote prevention and early intervention, encourage multidisciplinary approaches to care and enable dentists to focus on more complex dental service needs of the community.
In addition over 400,0002 people are currently on public dental waiting lists and public dental patients have significantly worse oral health than the overall Australian population, including increased presence of decayed teeth, periodontal disease and the extraction of teeth. Dental conditions also account for around 60,0003 potentially avoidable hospital admissions per annum.
The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission Final Report 2009 recommended the introduction of a one year graduate scheme prior to full registration, so that clinical preparation of oral health practitioners (dentists, dental therapists and dental hygienists) would operate under a similar model to medical practitioners.
The National Advisory Council on Dental Health Final Report 2012 notes that HWA was reviewing the scope of practice of oral health therapists, dental therapists and dental hygienists. The Council suggests that the scope of practice of dental practitioners be considered, specifically that the scope of practice of oral health therapists, dental therapists and dental hygienists be expanded. Noting that any changes to the scope of practice for these professions would need to be formally endorsed by the Dental Board of Australia (DBA), which is an independent industry led body.
The program will encourage graduates to work in the public sector and will provide an opportunity to utilise their full range of skills in multidisciplinary teams, ongoing professional development and support, access to mentors and an incentive bonus to complete the 12 month program. Stakeholder support through organisations such as the Australian Council of Dental Schools and the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists' Association will assist in promoting the scheme.
1 Chrisopolous S & Nguyen T 2012. Trends in the Australian dental labour force, 2000 to 2009: Dental labour force collection, 2009. Dental statistics and research series no 61. Cat. No. DEN 218. Canberra: AIHW
2 Report of the National Advisory Council on Dental Health, 23 February 2012
3 Source: AIHW Australian Hospital Statistics 2009-10, Table S7.10