A Cabinet Minister has praised the work of the University of Plymouth and Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE) CIC in offering free treatment to people currently experiencing homelessness in the city.

James Cleverly MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio, made the comments during a visit to the Devonport Dental Education Facility on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Cleverly, along with Conservative Plymouth councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate Rebecca Smith, met staff and students from the University, its Peninsula Dental School and PDSE, and heard about community engagement work including the weekly community clinic.

The centre, which is run by the University and PDSE, is one of four across Devon and Cornwall where students from Peninsula Dental School treat patients under the supervision of qualified and experienced dental health professionals. Alongside its education role, PDSE focuses on improving oral health and access to dental care for those groups who may feel excluded from mainstream dentistry, including homeless people.

Feedback from community clinic patients has shown attendance has a transformative effect, not only in terms of pain relief and motivation to look after their teeth, but also feelings of confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.

James Cleverly, Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister Without Portfolio said: “It was fantastic to hear from staff and students at PDSE about the excellent community focused training at the University of Plymouth. The way the University is supporting homeless people in the city is inspirational and should be celebrated.”

Simon Payne, the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and Planning), was one of those to welcome Mr Cleverly to the Devonport facility. He said: “The University is a national leader in the way that we engage with our wider community. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our outreach work in dentistry and medicine, that has such a positive impact on both our students, and the people they work with.

“It is fantastic that this is being recognised at a government level, and I’d like to thank James for his interest in our work.”

Robert Witton, Director of Social Engagement and Community-Based Dentistry at University of Plymouth Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and Chief Executive of PDSE said: “There are only a small number of providers offering a service like this for people experiencing homelessness and our community- supported model of delivery is unique. We use link workers in the community and a non-clinical outreach approach to engage with individuals as people rather than as patients first before their dental journey begins.

“As a committed social enterprise we currently provide this service as a pro bono contribution to the local community recognising this group of people are not able to access care easily through other NHS routes.”

Cllr Rebecca Smith, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport said: “Having met with Rob Witton and visited the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise before, I was keen for my colleague, James Cleverly MP to see the innovative work being done to train dental students and support vulnerable groups in our community on his visit to Plymouth.

“It was inspiring to meet with students and hear their journeys into dentistry and to meet staff working to support the homeless, children in local schools and veterans. I will continue to raise the profile of their work here in Plymouth and the need for more funding for local dental services, both as a candidate and if elected to serve the city in Parliament.”

Photography credit: University of Plymouth