The British Dental Association Scotland has welcomed confirmation the Scottish Government will allocate £5 million to help practices invest in ventilation equipment to increase patient volumes while meeting COVID restrictions.
The BDA first made the bid for financial support to improve ventilation to the Scottish Government in November. England is now the only UK nation not to have committed any capital funding for ventilation to help restore services.
Chief Dental Officer Tom Ferris has confirmed funds can be used to purchase, renew or upgrade ventilation systems, and practices can claim retrospectively for the period 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2022. The BDA is awaiting details of the conditions applied to the scheme, but has expressed concern that it may not cover those practices who have already installed portable units or air cleaners (such as HEPA filters) when they were unable to improve ventilation by other means in the short term, following guidance from the Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme (SDCEP).
Many in this position are based in sites unsuitable for major works, such as premises owned by health boards, in densely packed city centres with adjoining residential and commercial units, or in listed properties.
To meet strict guidelines on COVID transmission, dentists have had to leave surgeries fallow between most common procedures. Investment in ventilation ensures practices can reduce these gaps and increase patient throughput.
Restrictions have left practices operating at a fraction of their former capacity. Data from Public Health Scotland has shown a dramatic reduction in NHS dentistry delivered, which has hit those in most deprived communities the hardest. Between April and November 2020, the number of courses of treatment delivered was 83% lower than during the same period in 2019.
This week Scotland's CDO joined colleagues from the other three UK nations to commit to reviewing current restrictions. While the review may reduce the need for a fallow time longer term, the BDA has stressed this investment is required to 'future proof' services in the advent of any future pandemic, to secure an immediate boost in access, and will prove cost-neutral through increased patient charge revenues.
David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association's Scottish Dental Practice Committee said:
"This is a no brainer from the Scottish Government. Investment in ventilation can future proof Scotland's dental services, boost patient numbers and pay for itself.
"We must avoid half measures. Many dentists have had no option but buy portable systems to get patients back through their doors. Ministers must ensure they do not lose out.
"For our patients' sake this needs to mark a turning point when it comes to providing ongoing support to practices. Access to services has fallen off a cliff. A signature policy on free dentistry for all will be a promise that can't be kept unless we see real commitment from ministers."