Scottish Government commits £1bn to ‘improve care and tackle backlog’

Health Secretary pledges to 'work with frontline dentists to deliver service reform'

25 August, 2021 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

Investment in primary care to support dentists, GPs, community pharmacists, and optometrists is being increased by 25 per cent, the Scottish Government announced today.

The Government has published its NHS Recovery Plan, “committing more than £1b of targeted investment for the recovery and renewal of Scotland’s health service”. It sets out key actions for the next five years to help address backlogs in healthcare and increase capacity by at least 10 per cent. The plan outlines a range of reforms across primary and acute NHS services to help recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, “and get everyone the treatment they need as quickly as possible”.

Humza Yousaf, the Health Secretary, said: “Primary and community care services, such as general practice, pharmacy, dentistry and eye care, have been greatly impacted and are under significant pressure. Getting services back on track and tackling backlogs of care for patients as quickly as possible is essential, and this plan sets out how we will do that safely and effectively, while being open and transparent about the scale of the challenge the NHS faces over the next few years.”

He added: “For NHS community dentistry our immediate focus will be on returning the sector to at least pre-Covid levels of activity as soon as is practicable. The impact of the pandemic on NHS dentistry services has been particularly hard because of the aerosol particles generated by many dental procedures and the additional risk of spreading the virus that this brings.

“We are working on a four nations basis on revised infection, prevention and control (IPC) guidance, with a review of the guidance due to report in September 2021. We have invested £5m to improve the ventilation capability of dental surgeries, and £7.5m in new dental equipment. Both of these measures will reduce that risk and therefore help us to increase capacity in our dental surgeries. Both these initiatives will increase the capacity of dental practices to see more NHS patients under the present restrictions.

“Over this parliament we will remove all NHS dental charges and work with our frontline dentists to deliver service reform that ensures [services] that are sustainable long into the future. We’re committed to maintaining at least the range and scope of procedures that are available through an NHS dentist, and building on our established Oral Health Improvement Plan (2018). Our first step in removing charges is to remove charges for anyone aged under 26. By improving access to primary dental care we can help reduce pressure on acute dental services in the future.”

A key aim of the plan in primary care is to restore face-to-face GP consultations “as quickly and safely as possible”, while ensuring everyone can continue to make use of eHealth services like NHS Near Me, if that is their preference. The Government said it was also “bolstering” the NHS Pharmacy First scheme to enhance the range of services patients can access from community pharmacists without having to go to their GP.

In acute care it is increasing capacity for inpatients, day cases, outpatients and diagnostics. Prior to the pandemic, Scotland’s NHS carried out approximately 270,000 inpatient/day cases per year, and approximately 1.4 million outpatient appointments. “Through this plan we will work to increase NHS capacity substantially beyond these levels,” said the statement.

A priority within the plan is to focus on the health and wellbeing of NHS staff “who have given so much, particularly during the pandemic”.

Actions include:

  • increasing investment in National Treatment Centres (NTCs) to more than £400m, contributing to delivery of over 40,000 additional elective surgeries and procedures per year
  • raising primary care investment by 25 per cent, supporting GPs, community pharmacists, dentists and optometrists
  • investing £29m to target diagnostic backlogs, providing 78,000 additional procedures in 2021/22 rising to 90,000 per year from 2025/26
  • providing £8m to support the mental health and wellbeing of the health and care workforce
  • investing £11m in new national and international recruitment campaigns to produce an additional 1,500 staff over the next five years for our NTCs, 1,000 mental health link workers in communities, 800 more GPs, and boosting paramedic numbers through the £10,000 Paramedic Bursary.
  • delivering £23m to redesign urgent care – with rapid access to a senior clinician via a telephone or video consultation where possible, reducing the pressure on A&E
  • devoting £130m to deliver our National Cancer Plan and Detect Cancer Early Programme
  • ensuring at least 10 per cent of frontline health spending will be dedicated to mental health, and recruiting 320 additional Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) workers

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, was joined by the Health Secretary at the launch of the plan during a visit to the new national Centre for Sustainable Delivery (CfSD), which will play a key role in supporting improvements in outpatient and inpatient capacity as well as diagnostics.

“This plan will drive the recovery of our NHS, not just to its pre-pandemic level but beyond,” said the First Minister. “As we maintain our resilience against COVID-19 and other pressures, the Scottish Government is providing targeted investment to increase capacity, reform the system and ultimately get everyone the treatment they need as quickly as possible. Tackling the backlog of care is essential and will be a priority. But we want to go further than that and deliver an NHS that is innovative, sustainable and stronger than ever before.”

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