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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Yvonne Deeney

Protest at Bristol dental practice as NHS patients say closure would be 'devastating'

People came together in St Pauls to protest against the "devastating" closure of their local dentist. Bupa Dental Care on Ashley Road is set to close at the end of June and is one of 85 branches across the UK being closed by the private healthcare provider, following staff shortages and inflation.

St Pauls and surrounding neighbourhoods are classed as areas of multiple deprivation and the majority of people using the service are NHS patients. Existing St Pauls Bupa patients who spoke to Bristol Live say they have spent hours looking for an alternative NHS dental provider, but have not found one.

Local campaigners have started a petition, which has been sent to the Integrated Care Board and their local MP. Residents who came out to protest on Tuesday afternoon (May 30) spoke of how they have already lost their local bank and Post Office and do not want to lose their local dentist as well.

READ MORE: Bupa dentist closure leaves Bristol NHS patients searching 'as far as Wales' for replacement

Gaye Hereford, the last remaining dentist seeing NHS patients at the branch, stood at the door in support of the protesters and spoke about the need for the government to change its policy to save NHS dentistry. According to the British Dental Association (BDA) the unmet need for dentistry is currently at a record high and England is now facing the worst access crisis in the nation’s history, ‘fuelled by failed contracts and underfunding.’

Local councillor for the Ashley ward, Amirah Cole, helped to organise the protest and echoed the words of other patients at the branch - speaking of how her dental health has improved in the years she has been a patient of Ms Hereford. The surgery is set to close on June 30 but Tara Miran, a local community activist, said it needs to remain open for the local community who suffer from ‘multiple deprivations’ and cannot afford private sector dental care.

Cllr Cole said: “Without this practice it will be very difficult to get any kind of dental care because there is no NHS dental care in the area. Those people who have tried to get it are having to go as far as Chipping Sodbury or Chepstow for emergency dental care.

“A lot of people are affected by this, not only people who live in the area. There are a lot of vulnerable people impacted and people who can’t afford private dental care. We have a right to sustainable, accessible dental care, not [just] emergency care.

'The impact will be devastating'

“I have a very good dentist, when I came to this dentist my teeth were not the way they are now and this dentist not only told me how to look after my teeth but told me about my diet and a number of other things that have impacted on my life and I have shared with my children. Bupa and the Integrated Care Board need to come together and look at this and really think of a strategy.

“It is irresponsible for them to close this dentist without finding an alternative for NHS patients. We are here, we are using it, do not take it away from us because if you do take it away from us the impact will be devastating.”

People gathered in the park before heading over to the dental surgery on Ashley Road which is set to close on June 30. No arrangements have been made for the NHS patients from St Pauls and surrounding neighbourhoods. (Yvonne Deeney)

Tara Miran added: “We are demanding for this to stay open, we need it, everyone in the community needs it. This is for our children, our elders, those who can’t walk far, this is for all of us and we aren’t letting this one go; we need a dentist, we love our dentist.

“As much as it’s a problem, we are asking for a solution. It’s the perfect place on the high street, we have the building, we have the equipment there. Bupa may be closing as a provider but dental care is still a necessity so we need to find a way of working together to make sure we still have [a local NHS dentist].

“It’s not only people in St Pauls who use it but people from Easton, St Judes and Barton Hill and they are communities that on paper you would call them deprived communities. When it comes to the numbers they say we are deprived but we are saying, ‘don’t deprive us of this as well, we already face multiple deprivations, we don’t need more of it'.

“We know when it comes to our community, developers often move in very quickly. If we could as a community stand here every day and say, ’we don’t want this building to be anything other than a dentist’, we would. This is our community asset and we want to keep it and take care of it just like it’s taken care of us all these years.”

Bupa Dental Care in St Paul's (Google Maps)

Dentist speaks out about 'NHS desert'

Ms Hereford, who has been serving the community as the local dentist for the last 20 years, came to the door of the Bupa Dental Centre on Ashley Road to show her support for the local community. She took to the megaphone to speak about the impact the closure will have on the local community and the need for government policy to change.

She said: “The government has got to get its act together. Bupa can’t find anyone to work here, we’ve got no dentists, all the dentists have left.

“There aren’t enough dentists, nobody wants to work in the NHS. A dreadful contract was brought in before 2010, the government then was responsible for it and the government since has presided over it.

“We need a proper contract so dentists will want to work on the NHS and will stay working on the NHS because the vast majority of people cannot afford to go private, they’ve got nowhere else to go and there are places that are a complete NHS desert as far as dentistry goes. The government says there is going to be emergency care, emergency care isn’t dental care, it’s end of the line treatment.

“What we need is continuous care. If you don’t treat gum disease you get worsening diabetes, heart disease, you get worsening dementia and higher rates of mouth cancer. Emergency services are not a replacement for that, it’s going to cause far more burdens to the NHS.”

Bupa and government's responses

Bupa said it has planned these closures as a result of staffing shortages and inflation. The company says it is helping patients find an alternative practice and have handed contracts back to the NHS which will help commissioners to open up a contract for a new dental provider in the area.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working to improve access to NHS dental care by investing more than £3 billion a year. We reformed the NHS dental contract to encourage more dentists to provide NHS treatments and allow dental therapists and hygienists to offer extra services.

"We also increased the amount practices receive for high-need patients. There were over 500 more dentists delivering NHS care in 2022 than in 2021, but we know there is more to do and we will be announcing further measures to improve access across the country soon.”

You can see the petition here.


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