- Published: Monday, 27 November 2023 10:15
- Written by Peter Ingle
- Hits: 1352
BUPA Dental made the shock announcement that they intended to dispose of 85 practices in March. This represented nearly 20% of their estate.
Practices would be closed, merged or sold, with the not for profit organisation saying that it would try to seek new owners for some, as an alternative to the immediate closure of others.
One of the practices that BUPA closed soon after that announcement may now be about to get a second chance.
The majority of the affected practices were focussed on providing NHS services. It was believed that a combination of the NHS contract, increased operating costs and the added challenge in some practices of recruiting staff, made them unviable. They were often located in comparatively less prosperous areas, one example being in the St Pauls district of Bristol.
A vigorous and well organised campaign including protests, fun days, and frequent coverage in local media, began even before the practice closed in June. The Dental Action Group which was set up by local campaigners in St Pauls, was formed after a resident started a petition against the Bupa closure, seeking to secure NHS dental care in the area.
At the time of the announcement patients looking for an NHS dentist spoke of searching as far away as Wales, and residents and former patients held several protests outside the Bristol practice.
The action group successfully managed to save the building and its equipment but were then faced with a 12-month-deadline to find a new dentist willing to take on the contract and had been working with the ICB in finding a replacement for Bupa. This has now culminated in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire ICB announcing SGA Services Ltd as the new provider to take over the practice. SGA is owned by Dr Gauri Pradhan and currently has practices nearby in the Southmead and Thornbury districts.
The new contract will be concluded on December 9, after a mandatory ‘challenge’ period when other potential providers have time to challenge the decision before it is officially signed off.
In response to the news, an Ashley Ward Councillor, Amirah Cole, who has been involved in the campaign said: “It’s good news to hear the contract has now been awarded. Let’s hope it’s not too long before the practice doors are open to the community again.
“The campaign has been instrumental in keeping the need for a dentist in St Pauls on the ICB’s agenda since the Bupa Dental Practice closed. As a councillor I have spoken to many residents who need dental care and have not been able to find accessible or affordable dental care."
There is little doubt that the persistent local action has played a major part in keeping the issue in the news. As campaigner Barbara Cook said before the latest announcment: “It’s been an amazing campaign as we’re working between two worlds. We are glad that we are now included in official meetings with the Integrated Care Board and Bupa, while still protesting and campaigning in the area. The campaign has been working. As far as I know we are the only dentist in the country to reopen after closing. That is solely because of our local campaign.”
A spokesperson for the ICB, said in regards to the St Paul’s dental practice: "We’re pleased to have made a decision to award the contract to provide dental services in St Pauls, to SGA services Ltd. We’d like to thank members of the Dental Action Group and local community for their continued support throughout this process.”
At the time of the closures it was apparent that they would leave Bupa with a more privately oriented group of practices. Bupa combines a not for profit structure with its status as a large corporate, and is able to leverage considerable economies of scale. This made its withdrawal from predominantly NHS practices, a particularly damming indictment of the dental contract. It also begs the question of how the practice can make a profit now, as part of a much smaller group. SGS Services’ local knowledge and connections may make a difference. Encouraged by a well organised local campaign, the involvement of the ICB may have allowed some flexibility that was not available to Bupa at the time.
As well as wishing the local residents of St Pauls and their new practice team well, many other dentally abandoned communities will be watching closely.
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