Bupa Dental Care is set to cut 85 dental practices in a move that will affect 1,200 staff across the UK, amid a national shortage of dentists and “systemic” challenges across the industry.
The healthcare group said patients at the affected practices have not been able to access the NHS dental service they need.
Bupa, which provides NHS and private dental care, said the 85 practices will be closed, sold or merged later this year, bringing the total number of practices in the UK down to 365.
All the practices will remain open as usual in the meantime.
The move will affect 1,200 employed and self-employed staff, representing more than a tenth of its 9,000-strong workforce.
Bupa said it would redeploy affected staff where possible to different areas of the business.
National shortages of dentists have been worsened by the NHS contract model, and because of an increased demand and complexity of care since the Covid pandemic, Bupa warned.
The industry has also been affected by inflation and higher energy prices, increasing the cost to run patient services.
Mark Allan, general manager for Bupa Dental Care, said: “As a leading dental provider in the UK, our priority must be to enable patients to receive the care they need.
“For the majority of affected practices, this decision will allow commissioners to procure local providers for the NHS contract, tailoring services and investment to the needs of the local community, thereby providing a better opportunity for patients to continue access to NHS dental services.”
Bupa said it would be handing back the dental contract to the NHS for practices that are set to close, meaning commissioners can find a new provider to continue treating patients in the area.
Mr Allan went on: “We fully understand the impact today’s decision has on our patients and our people within these practices.
“This decision has not been taken lightly and closure is a last resort.
“Despite our continued efforts, the dental industry is facing a number of significant and systemic challenges that are placing additional pressure on providing patient care, in particular recruiting dentists to deliver NHS dental care.”
It follows reports that people have turned to performing dental procedures on themselves amid a backlog in dental care.
The British Dental Association said that the service is “approaching the end of the road” unless the Government and opposition outline a clear plan to reform and properly fund NHS dentistry.