Patient attendance at Soweto dental clinics before and after introduction of free dental services
Knowledge of how attendance loads at dental clinics have changed since free dental services were introduced in April 1996 is vital for the proper implementation of services. The objective of this study was to compare monthly attendances in Soweto dental clinics one year before and one year after the introduction of free dental treatment. Details of the total number of attendances, casual and booked, at all ten dental clinics in Soweto were noted from the central records at Lillian Ngoyi clinic, as well as the number of operators. These data were stored in the Wits computer network for analysis with SAS and Prism3 computer software. A patient attendance index was defined as the number of attendances per clinic corrected for the number of operators. Patient attendance fluctuated by day and season throughout the study period. There was a mean 46% increase in patient attendance when the years before and after free treatment were compared. Casval patient attendance [pain and sepsis treatment] increased by a mean of 52% and booked attendance [restorative treatment] increased by 8%.There was a mean increase of 19% in the patient to operator ratio. Casual patient attendance has increased the workload on operators and has kept the booked attendance at a low level. Furthermore, the preventive school programmes can no longer be maintained as a result of the staff workload. This could have serious consequences for the future generations and operators alike.