Revised payment arrangements for NHS dentists will be linked more closely to the number of patients they see from April to avoid a “cliff-edge” for practices, the Scottish Government has announced.
Ministers said the revised arrangements will help ensure patients can access NHS services while dentists continue to be supported as they operate under “necessary” coronavirus restrictions.
The revised payments will replace emergency top-up arrangements introduced to protect the sector from the immediate impact of the pandemic.
Separately, an advisory group will be established to consider long-term reform of the sector and the future structure of NHS dentistry.
Public Health Minister Maree Todd said: “The pandemic has had a significant impact on the provision of dental care and our focus must now be on recovery and ensuring we equip the sector to work through the significant dental backlog.
“From April, the new system will support dentists to see more patients while avoiding a cliff-edge for practices and ensuring a soft transition during what is still a constrained period for dental teams.
“Importantly, this means dentists could earn more than they do now through Covid-19 payment support.
“We’re delivering record investment in dentistry – with a 9% increase in the budget for NHS dental services in 2022-23 – and there has been a 39% increase in the number of high-street dentists in Scotland between 2007 and 2021.
“Last year there were 55.6 dentists per 100,000 of the population providing NHS care in Scotland compared to 39.9 in England.
“We are absolutely committed to improving oral health, including the removal of NHS dental charges during the lifetime of this parliament.”
Current infection prevention and control measures mean dentists are required to wear significant amounts of PPE, clean surgeries thoroughly between appointments, and allow time between appointments to ventilate rooms.
The new arrangements will see the withdrawal of emergency financial support arrangements – which were paid to dentists regardless of their rates of activity – from April 1, to be replaced with interim funding arrangements.
The interim arrangements will pay more than emergency financial support to dentists who are performing above-average activity, and the same for those performing at average activity levels
Chief dental officer Tom Ferris said: “We know how important it is that NHS dental teams get the right support to carry on providing the services patients need.
“We’re confident that these revised arrangements are a step in the right direction to improving access, by linking financial support to seeing patients.
“We have been sharing our proposals with the British Dental Association from before Christmas, listening to the concerns of the sector and the need to avoid the cliff-edge when the emergency support payments come to an end.
“These revised arrangements are in addition to £50m of financial support for dentists during the pandemic, along with £35m of PPE.
“It also comes on top of new and increased fees for dentists for a range of treatments including enhanced appointments from 1 Feb 2022.”