The Scottish Government is fully committed to supporting the national health service dental sector. That is why, from the beginning of the pandemic, we have put in place emergency support payments for national health service practices and dentists, including £33 million of additional funding per year.
We have also recently announced £7.5 million of funding for dentists to buy new equipment to help to reduce the impact of United Kingdom-wide Covid restrictions. That builds on the £5 million that we have already provided to the sector for ventilation improvements. NHS National Procurement continues to provide around £1.5 million of personal protective equipment per week free of charge to dental contractors who provide NHS care.
We expect those measures to increase the productivity of practices, thereby enabling them to see more patients within the current infection, prevention and control constraints.
Plean Street dental practice in my constituency has responsibility for 6,000 patients yet, because of the funding structures in place for Covid support, when one dentist left during the pandemic, the practice lost 25 per cent funding, despite patient numbers remaining the same. Balancing reduced staff and physical distancing while ensuring dental care for thousands of patients places increasing demand on practices.
Does the Scottish Government agree that that anomaly is unfair on practices in such situations? Will the Government commit to evaluating how the policy can be adapted to ensure that proportionate funding is maintained?
We are certainly interested in working with dental practices to ensure that they are financially sustainable in future. Our commitment to provide free dental care in the programme for government shows the absolute priority that we give to dental care for the population.
We have provided significant funding for contractors who provide NHS dental services. Dentists have received a top-up payment of 80 per cent of their average monthly earnings from 2019 to 2020. We increased that to 85 per cent from November 2020, and that remains in place.
I am more than happy to hear more details about the situation in his constituency that Bill Kidd raised. If he writes to me, I will certainly look into the situation and give him a fuller, more individual response.
With dental practices across Scotland currently operating at restricted capacity in line with Covid restrictions, there have been worrying reports that although NHS patients are having to wait months to see a dentist, those who can afford to go private are being seen within days. Is the minister not concerned about risking the development of a two-tier dental system in Scotland? What steps will be taken to ensure that NHS patients who cannot afford private dental care still receive the timely treatment that they need and to which they are entitled?
We are absolutely committed to NHS dental care, and to supporting and protecting NHS dental care for all patients in Scotland. By the end of this session of Parliament, everyone in Scotland will be able to access free NHS dental care.
Covid has particular challenges for the dental sector, because the majority of procedures involve aerosol generating procedures. We have put in place funding to support enhanced ventilation in NHS practices and funding for different types of hand-held instruments, which do not generate aerosols.
We are doing what we can within the constraints of the pandemic to increase capacity in NHS dental care. Our commitment to NHS dental care is absolutely and fundamentally strong.