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Waiting for Raspberry Pi: Eben Upton talks supply constraints and demand shock

Hardware hobbyists wanting to get their hands on some juicy single-board Raspberry Pi kit to power low cost electronics projects have been having a frustrating…



Hardware hobbyists wanting to get their hands on some juicy single-board Raspberry Pi kit to power low cost electronics projects have been having a frustrating time for more than a year now, as pandemic-triggered global supply chain disruption continues squeezing reseller inventory.

Go try and buy Pi and you can’t miss how official reseller websites everywhere — such as Pimoroni and SB Components in Europe or AdaFruit in the US — are peppered with ‘Out of Stock’ notifications.

Keep looking and you’ll probably stumble across social media stories of enthusiasts forking over multiples on the RRP of sought-after boards via non official reseller routes (like Amazon) — hardware that would usually carry an exceptionally reasonable price-tag.

Unlike Pi itself, these tales of Pi buyer woe are, sadly, all too easy to find online as scalpers have honed in on the supply shortage — firing up stock-buying bots and trying to swoop when a few units appear so they can sell the kit on at vastly inflated prices by exploiting people’s passion to get on with their projects…

One frustrated would-be-Pi buying tipster pinged us directly — wondering: “How is Raspberry Pi surviving in this climate? So many of their products have been (and continue to be) out of stock for years. It’s so bad that numerous products are backordered into late 2023. You also wouldn’t know it from the Buy buttons on their website… it links to vendors which are all out of stock so they are basically burying how bad it is. Anyways, hope they make it through this just be hurting them big time.”

To be fair to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, they have been blogging about the supply issue since last year (when they also had to announce some temporary price increases also linked to the “strange times” in global semiconductor supply) — so claiming they’re ‘burying’ the bad news risks sounding a tad conspiratorial.

The roots of the global semiconductor shortage itself are linked to supply chain disruption triggered by the pandemic impacting labor availability and by COVID-19 lockdowns simultaneously spiking demand for all sorts of consumer electronics (which of course need chips to power them). In short, the proverbial ‘perfect storm’.

Pi’s supply issues are really a neat package of both phenomena, if we can put it that way. (Or: “We have order backlogs from our distributors, and they have order backlogs from their customers,” as Raspberry Pi’s co-founder concisely sums the problem to us.)

The upshot is far from neat for individuals wanting to buy Pi, of course. But the company has stepped into the breach to support its business customers — specifically industrial and commercial OEMs — through these leaner supply times. This means it’s prioritizing available Pi stock for business customers so they can keep serving their customers, hence hobbyists are feeling the (inventory) pinch.

“These are companies (often small ones) who have put their faith in our platform: Livelihoods are at stake, and we feel an obligation to them,” co-founder Eben Upton told TechCrunch, adding: “New production goes to fill these backlogs, which is how we can be consistently building over 100,000 units a week but still see little free stock in channel.”

So while the Pi maker’s core ‘democratizing tech’ educational mission is intrinsically bound up with providing curious individuals with affordable  access to programmable computing hardware — so they can play around and learn STEM along the way — there’s no doubt it has had to take the tough choice to ask enthusiasts to join the queue behind Pi-reliant businesses.

“Obviously this translates into reduced availability for enthusiast customers,” he confirmed. “The advice there is buy from Approved Resellers, many of whom operate wait lists, and/or to use tools like rpilocator to keep track of stock as it appears in channel.”

“Go to Approved Resellers,” he reiterated. “We’re not supplying non-approved resellers. Go to an AR, get in the queue. Use rpilocator if you want but go to an AR… that operates a queuing system, get in the queue. We are getting units out. We are still managing to get some units out to that space.”

The message for hobbyists — for now — thus remains a very British one: ‘We’re sorry but you’re going to have to get in the queue and wait your turn.’

But Upton also signalled that the Pi inventory issues should start to ease next year — saying he was hopeful of a resolution “no later than Q2”. “We’re seeing positive signs that the supply chain situation is improving but it will be some months yet before we’re back in the sort of robust stock position we prefer,” he told TechCrunch.

Dealing with demand shock

In a supply chain update back in April, Upton, wrote that a “variety” of supply chain challenges are continuing to disrupt inventory-as-usual.

“The current situation is as much a demand shock as a supply shock,” he explained. “Demand for Raspberry Pi products increased sharply from the start of 2021 onwards, and supply constraints have prevented us from flexing up to meet this demand, with the result that we now have significant order backlogs for almost all products. In turn, our many resellers have their own backlogs, which they fulfil when they receive stock from us.”

He also reiterated the aforementioned, official Pi advice for individuals trying to get hold of kit — advice that continues to apply: Namely, buy Pi from an approved reseller (i.e. to avoid being scalped); and try to find a reseller that takes pre-orders and can (hopefully) give you an idea of how long you’re doing to be waiting… And, well, the (obvious) follow-on is: Prepare to be patient while you wait to get your Pi.

Pimoroni co-founder, Jon Williamson, only had words of praise for Raspberry Pi (aka, the Pi-manufacturing arm of the charitable Pi Foundation) for having done “really well” keeping “SBC” (single-board computing) kit in-stock “until a long way into the shortages, especially given their popularity”, as he put it to us in an email.

He also pointed us back to Pi’s April blog post — calling it a “pretty thorough” update which provides “the best info” on the supply crunch.

“We get small drops of SBC stock at infrequent intervals, much like the other resellers,” Williamson said of Pimoroni’s own Pi supply situation, saying the strategy it’s using to weather inventory challenges attached to its core product is to focus on other Pi products that are in more plentiful supply. “We’ve got a good flow of RP2040/Pico stock and are focusing on our products that support that,” he noted.

Upton’s April update also urges buyers to consider the (2020 launched) Raspberry Pi 400; or the (2021) Pico — which is made using Pi’s own silicon and an in-house developed chip (RP2040) — as alternatives to other more supply-constrained boards, as he said those lines have been less affected by supply issues so you should have less of wait to get your Pi.

Given the ongoing chatter around shortages, we reached out to Upton for a chat about how it’s been managing such a sustained period of inventory constraints — a phone call, it should be said, that Upton offered despite being on holiday at the time (so he certainly can’t be accused of running from the issue).

He also readily agreed it’s a frustrating situation for Pi buyers — and indeed for everyone at Raspberry Pi which has always had a dual focus on homebrew (hobbyist) and industrial (business) users so individual buyers are absolutely a core component (pardon the pun) of its customer base.

“We’re really sorry — this isn’t a situation we’ve chosen,” he volunteered during a chat which took place to an evocative backdrop of medieval church bells and piazza buzz. “This isn’t a situation anyone wants to be in. And we’re working our knuckles to the bone trying to get out of it.”

He also had some good news: Telling us he’s hopeful that the sustained inventory squeeze will start to ease from early(ish) next year. So — fingerscrossed — those annoying ‘Out of Stock’ notifications should start to get less visible in 2023. (The usual ‘black swan event’ caveats do of course apply, especially as 2022 has had no shortage of fresh geopolitical shocks, such as Russia starting a land war in Europe.)

Eben Upton with a slice of Pi back at TC Disrupt London in 2014 (Image credits: TechCrunch)

“The good news is we are hopeful that, independently of whether the macro environment changes, our specific supply challenges are going to get a lot better in, say — no later than — Q2 of next year,” he said. “I think that would be a good guess because there are some supply side factors that are going to help. There’s a lot more manufacturing capacity.”

His confidence on this relates to having greater production capacity for manufacturing on 28 nm silicon — which is used in Pi 4 products.

“There’s a lot more production capacity for that… coming online in the next 12 months — and I think that will probably be the thing that brings our specific shortages to an end,” he predicted. “I’m probably pretty comfortable with Q2 [as a projected end-date for Pi’s supply crunch] so the challenge for us now is how do we bring that into Q1 — how do we eke a couple of months out… how do we just squeeze it a little, what levers can we pull to get that sort of ‘return to growth’?

“Because this isn’t about contraction — it’s about a lack of growth. It’s how do we get to a return to growth a couple of months earlier than we get it naturally from the system.”

Asked what’s been the biggest supply chain problem affecting Pi production to-date — or whether there have been a number of different issues since the pandemic disruption kicked off — Upton said it’s really been a shifting patchwork of supply constraints that they’re having to manage and respond to as each one occurs.

“It’s pretty broad-based, actually. On any given day there’s certain components that’s challenging but it’s been pretty broad-based. It’s one of those things where you can kind of feel there’s a natural production rate that’s hard to push beyond because you have some constraint on, you know, core logic and then you get through that and wireless is a problem or some power component is a problem,” he explained.

“We’re pretty good in that most components on the board are at least dual-source. And that’s given us a bit of resilience. But really it’s very persistent, very broad-based,” he added. “It’s everything.”

He recounted one supply issue with a board that was triggered by a new lockdown being ordered in Shanghai — describing these “little tactical shortages which take the line down for a day or two” as still being capable of hitting production rates as they ripple through (and knock down) the supply chain.

“We had a problem that we were recovering from a silicon front-end issue with a supplier — a wafer supplier — but then their packaging and test and ship-out was in Shanghai and no one could go to work in Shanghai,” he said, adding that these sorts of “geographical” issues are certainly an ongoing headache. “Probably rolling lockdowns in China are — I wouldn’t say the biggest source of strategic shortage — but they’re the biggest source of day-to-day [supply issues].”

Unlike governments in the West, the Chinese state has continued to pursue a ‘zero COVID-19’ policy — which has meant large scale lockdowns are still occurring there from time to time (when COVID-19 case clusters are identified), such as a Shanghai city-wide lockdown in March.

Such events have the potential to set off localized labor constraints which can throttle international hardware production if companies are relying on China-based sourcing (which is of course hard to avoid if, like Pi, your business is building electronics).

Though, in Pi’s case, Upton told us it has generally been able to rely on sourcing components elsewhere to get around localized disruptions. “Fortunately most of those components are multi-source components — and you tend to be able to work around those sorts of things,” he said in relation to the Shanghai incident.

He added that the Pi maker has done a lot more multi-sourcing since the global supply chain disruption kicked off. “We were pretty robust already — because I mean you just have to be, even in normal times — you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket. But we’ve done a lot more.”

Of course workarounds, by their nature, are unlikely to be entirely impact free when it comes to maintaining ‘normal’ production rates — especially in the middle of a global supply crisis. There’s always going to be some delay/contingency switching cost vs when your primary suppliers are all running smoothly. So it’s about patching the supply chain to sustain production as best you can, rather than being in a position to ramp rates up. 

Plus there’s another, harder to quantify impact attached to the global semiconductor shortage, per Upton: A cost to engineering time. And therefore — to some degree — to product innovation. Simply put, supply chain disruption doesn’t just slow down production; it applies the brakes to your ability to develop the next big thing. Which means there could be a longer wait for the next Pi too. 

“One real annoyance, I guess, for us it that we’re spending engineering effort on qualifying component alternatives when we’d rather be spending engineering effort on making the next big thing,” he said, adding: “I think that’s pretty common across the industry. It’s sinking engineering time in a way which is really unhelpful from an innovation perspective.

“We’re probably spending 40% of our engineering capacity on things which I would not traditionally consider to be desirable — in that they don’t move the ball. They keep the ball where it is; they don’t move the ball forward… I think that that is a challenge.”

Keeping industrial customers fed

The global semiconductor shortage lies at the root of the Pi supply problem since it’s prevented the company from scaling manufacturing to meet rising demand, as would normally be the case when a business finds itself in the (otherwise) happy situation of increased appetite for its products — exactly because electronics supply issues are so pervasive.

Basically: There’s no perfect workaround for these global shortages — meaning Pi simply can’t serve all the demand for its products right now.

The company assembles almost all its products in UK-based factories in South Wales but, per Upton, it also relies on a surge facility for times of peak demand, such as around product launches — using a Sony a ‘pick and place’ facility in Japan to take care of a portion of the front-end assembly work before returning the panels to Wales where Pi’s own factories take care of the rest (also doing the testing, packing and shipping). Pico products are also made in Japan. And those boards are in less of a supply-constrained position than most other kit.

But, for now, inventory disruption remains the rule as demand for Pi’s products continues to outstrip the production rate it can deliver. (In its April update, Upton wrote that it had “consistently” been able to build “around half a million” boards and modules each month for the past six, despite its various supply challenges — so at a reported 100k+ units per week now Pi’s production rates appear to be roughly around, or maybe slightly below, that level.)

As we’ve reported before, demand for Pi products accelerated during the pandemic when lots of people were stuck indoors twiddling their thumbs for things to do — some with extra disposable income burning a hole in their pockets. So lockdown boredom seems to have encouraged a bunch of people to take the plunge and give hardware hacking a whirl.

Upton also points to the concern over kids’ education at a time when schools were shut being another big demand driver since Pi microprocessors can be turned into highly affordable computers for home study — just salvage a few old monitors and keyboards, say by tapping up a local businesses for donations, and off you go with cheap computers for kids. (Pro tip: He recommends asking law firms to chip in unused peripherals as he suggests they tend to hang onto their old IT kit.)

Interestingly, though, he said the rise in demand for Pi has been sustained even as most pandemic lockdowns have eased. So it has not experienced the sort of spike-to-crash that hit pandemic-accelerated videoconferencing platforms when in-person meetings started back up again.

“Demand is just wild at the moment,” he told us. “Everything is [up]. Demand in the industry is very, very strong. Ok, maybe there’ll be a downturn… but the shoe is taking a lot longer to drop than we might have expected.”

It’s not entirely clear what all the growth drivers are exactly but one element stoking demand for Pi’s products is the industrial side of its business — as Upton said the most recent refresh to its embedded computing line (aka Compute Module) has been in especially high demand ever since it launched (just prior to the pandemic).

“Probably the biggest single thing was we launched Compute Module 4 — at the tail end of 2019. And it had a really hard take-off. It’s still inexplicable to me really… It just took off like a rocket. And to this day I don’t really know why.

“It might be the reduced availability of other stuff. If you think about what competes with Compute Module — [it’s] doing a forecast and design yourself. So putting a chip down, going and buying chips, going and buying memory, designing a board, and putting it yourself down on the board. And what it could be with Compute Module is the unavailability of older silicon — so sort of the global shock — has coupled through into us because people have gone well I can’t go and buy an NXP chip… so I’ll use that Compute Module; I know those guys, we trust them.”

“It was just this very strange curve where Compute Module 4’s been blowing the roof off,” he added. “The business for us blew through to over 1M units a year, very, very quickly.”

High demand for the Compute Module has a direct knock-on impact on Pi’s ability to supply SBC inventory since he said both lines use the same components — describing the issue as “kind of a finite [resource]”. “The sum of Modules plus single-board computers is kind of the thing that is constrained, to a certain extent,” he added. “When modules go up single-board computers come down.” 

The supply squeeze has meant a big change to how Pi interacts with its industrial and OEM customers — requiring it to establish a much closer working relationship than it had pre-pandemic when it was able to pump out ample extra stock.

Since the April blog post, Upton said Pi has taken on more than 2,000 direct OEM supply relationships.

“We do think we’re doing a great job with the OEMs,” he told us. “The value proposition for Raspberry Pi has always been that you can buy 100,000 of them tomorrow — and that’s incredible in our industry, right. Nobody does that… And so when you have that kind of world you don’t really need to relate to your OEMs very much; you know, the product’s available — you just go and buy it when you need it. [But] in this [supply] constrained environment what that’s caused us to do is have much closer relationships with our OEMs.”

Upton urged any OEMs that are still struggling to get the products they need to get in touch via a dedicated email — in order that it can try to support them.

“If people are having trouble they can mail and we’ll find out who they are,” he said. “We’ll do our very best to find out they’re not scalpers — that they’re real OEMs with real demand. We don’t want people who are going to resell them. We don’t want people who are building inventory, you know, building kind of a buffer so that they feel comfortable. We want to know what people’s exact requirements are — how many do you need on every given day to keep the line running so that we are not the one problem for your production.

“We find out what those are and then we do our best to fulfil them. And we’re making hundreds and hundreds of Raspberry Pis a month — and I think that’s enough to feed, if well managed, and if you get rid of the panic buying [tendency] that’s enough; that will feed the OEM customers. So we think we’re doing a good job keeping our OEMs up but the heartbreaking thing for us of course is we’re an enthusiast business — we’re equal parts an industrial business and an enthusiast’s, hobbyist’s business.”

“Those are both really important to us,” he added. “So when we talk about ‘getting back to growth’ that’s what we’re talking about — getting back to that kind of ‘stocked’, ‘100,000-200,000 inventory sloshing around in the channel’ kind of place where we were for a decade, for the eight or nine years before this kicked off.”

Upton reiterates the aforementioned advice for Pi hungry individuals, too — pointing makers back to products that are less supply constrained, such as the Pico.

“In January last year we rocked up with our own first party silicon. We control all the main silicon in the Pico products — because the RP2040 microcontroller we made ourselves. And, you know, what a time for that to appear! So Pico is one [product that’s less supply constrained]. And we’ve got some budget — we can built 10M-20M Picos if we need to. There’s no problem with that,” he said, adding the Pico line is selling “a few million” units a year currently.

“Obviously it’s not the Raspberry Pi platform — when people think Raspberry Pi they tend to mean the big model, what we call ‘big Raspberry Pi’ — the Linux Raspberry Pi. But actually what you can do with the new wireless one, the Pico W, there’s quite an overlap.”

He also observed that some hobbyists have been able to switch to alternative kit than they had planned on using — pointing out that the Pico can work as a stand-in for the Zero.

“It’s interesting how many people’s applications for Raspberry Pi actually consist of running a Python script and reporting the results and communicating the data over wi-fi and that’s it. So it’s interesting to watch people find ways to do what would have been Raspberry Pi Zero projects — or Raspberry Pi Zero W projects — and find ways to do those projects using the Pico and Pico W platforms because they’re in better supply… Because of course the Pico W has got wireless capability, it runs Python.”

“The number of high level programming languages on microcontrollers changes the game,” he added, giving a nod to Arduino for its work in making the space more accessible. “Microcontrollers always had… a bit of a sort of hairy-scary reputation. But you can just write a Python script — it’s just like a regular piece of coding.”

Also on the sunnier side, Upton brushes off any concerns linked to the UK’s current economic turmoils — where interests rates and inflation are soaring and the British pound is, er, not — saying he’s confident economic issues on home soil won’t cause Pi fresh supply (and/or cost) headaches in the near term.

This is because the UK company is established as a dollar business, giving it some padding against local fiscal turmoil.

“We’re a dollar business. We buy things in dollars, we sell things in dollars, we report all our financials in dollars. So we’re a dollar business based in Cambridge, UK. The only thing that’s directly [in sterling] is our salary expense, or most of our salary expense because we do have some US employees,” he explained.

“In the medium term, of course, our manufacturing salary expense is in sterling and therefore you would expect — it’s a slow effect — the change in the manufacturing price quotes based on salary costs but over time you would expect dollar denominated manufacturing costs to change… But, by and large, and certainly the direction in which exchange rates are moving at the moment isn’t a problem for us in that it’s making… sterling fixed costs cheaper at the moment.”

“But it’s not a big effect — at all — on us. And to the extent it is an effect it’s on the ‘positive’ [side],” he added. “I mean, you can’t devalue the oasis of debt and no one’s advocating for sterling’s devaluation to make British manufacturing look better but to the extent there is an effect it’s impossible to denominate.”

Waiting for Raspberry Pi: Eben Upton talks supply constraints and demand shock by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

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Rand Paul Teases Senate GOP Leader Run – Musk Says “I Would Support”

Rand Paul Teases Senate GOP Leader Run – Musk Says "I Would Support"

Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on Friday hinted that he may jump…



Rand Paul Teases Senate GOP Leader Run - Musk Says "I Would Support"

Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on Friday hinted that he may jump into the race to become the next Senate GOP leader, and Elon Musk was quick to support the idea. Republicans must find a successor for periodically malfunctioning Mitch McConnell, who recently announced he'll step down in November, though intending to keep his Senate seat until his term ends in January 2027, when he'd be within weeks of turning 86. 

So far, the announced field consists of two quintessential establishment types: John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota. While John Barrasso's name had been thrown around as one of "The Three Johns" considered top contenders, the Wyoming senator on Tuesday said he'll instead seek the number two slot as party whip. 

Paul used X to tease his potential bid for the position which -- if the GOP takes back the upper chamber in November -- could graduate from Minority Leader to Majority Leader. He started by telling his 5.1 million followers he'd had lots of people asking him about his interest in running...

...then followed up with a poll in which he predictably annihilated Cornyn and Thune, taking a 96% share as of Friday night, with the other two below 2% each. 

Elon Musk was quick to back the idea of Paul as GOP leader, while daring Cornyn and Thune to follow Paul's lead by throwing their names out for consideration by the Twitter-verse X-verse. 

Paul has been a stalwart opponent of security-state mass surveillance, foreign interventionism -- to include shoveling billions of dollars into the proxy war in Ukraine -- and out-of-control spending in general. He demonstrated the latter passion on the Senate floor this week as he ridiculed the latest kick-the-can spending package:   

In February, Paul used Senate rules to force his colleagues into a grueling Super Bowl weekend of votes, as he worked to derail a $95 billion foreign aid bill. "I think we should stay here as long as it takes,” said Paul. “If it takes a week or a month, I’ll force them to stay here to discuss why they think the border of Ukraine is more important than the US border.”

Don't expect a Majority Leader Paul to ditch the filibuster -- he's been a hardy user of the legislative delay tactic. In 2013, he spoke for 13 hours to fight the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. In 2015, he orated for 10-and-a-half-hours to oppose extension of the Patriot Act

Rand Paul amid his 10 1/2 hour filibuster in 2015

Among the general public, Paul is probably best known as Capitol Hill's chief tormentor of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease during the Covid-19 pandemic. Paul says the evidence indicates the virus emerged from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology. He's accused Fauci and other members of the US government public health apparatus of evading questions about their funding of the Chinese lab's "gain of function" research, which takes natural viruses and morphs them into something more dangerous. Paul has pointedly said that Fauci committed perjury in congressional hearings and that he belongs in jail "without question."   

Musk is neither the only nor the first noteworthy figure to back Paul for party leader. Just hours after McConnell announced his upcoming step-down from leadership, independent 2024 presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr voiced his support: 

In a testament to the extent to which the establishment recoils at the libertarian-minded Paul, mainstream media outlets -- which have been quick to report on other developments in the majority leader race -- pretended not to notice that Paul had signaled his interest in the job. More than 24 hours after Paul's test-the-waters tweet-fest began, not a single major outlet had brought it to the attention of their audience. 

That may be his strongest endorsement yet. 

Tyler Durden Sun, 03/10/2024 - 20:25

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‘I couldn’t stand the pain’: the Turkish holiday resort that’s become an emergency dental centre for Britons who can’t get treated at home

The crisis in NHS dentistry is driving increasing numbers abroad for treatment. Here are some of their stories.

This clinic in the Turkish resort of Antalya is the official 'dental sponsor' of the Miss England competition. Diana Ibanez-Tirado, Author provided

It’s a hot summer day in the Turkish city of Antalya, a Mediterranean resort with golden beaches, deep blue sea and vibrant nightlife. The pool area of the all-inclusive resort is crammed with British people on sun loungers – but they aren’t here for a holiday. This hotel is linked to a dental clinic that organises treatment packages, and most of these guests are here to see a dentist.

From Norwich, two women talk about gums and injections. A man from Wales holds a tissue close to his mouth and spits blood – he has just had two molars extracted.

The dental clinic organises everything for these dental “tourists” throughout their treatment, which typically lasts from three to 15 days. The stories I hear of what has caused them to travel to Turkey are strikingly similar: all have struggled to secure dental treatment at home on the NHS.

“The hotel is nice and some days I go to the beach,” says Susan*, a hairdresser in her mid-30s from Norwich. “But really, we aren’t tourists like in a proper holiday. We come here because we have no choice. I couldn’t stand the pain.”

Seaside beach resort with mountains in the distance
The Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya. Akimov Konstantin/Shutterstock

This is Susan’s second visit to Antalya. She explains that her ordeal started two years earlier:

I went to an NHS dentist who told me I had gum disease … She did some cleaning to my teeth and gums but it got worse. When I ate, my teeth were moving … the gums were bleeding and it was very painful. I called to say I was in pain but the clinic was not accepting NHS patients any more.

The only option the dentist offered Susan was to register as a private patient:

I asked how much. They said £50 for x-rays and then if the gum disease got worse, £300 or so for extraction. Four of them were moving – imagine: £1,200 for losing your teeth! Without teeth I’d lose my clients, but I didn’t have the money. I’m a single mum. I called my mum and cried.

Susan’s mother told her about a friend of hers who had been to Turkey for treatment, then together they found a suitable clinic:

The prices are so much cheaper! Tooth extraction, x-rays, consultations – it all comes included. The flight and hotel for seven days cost the same as losing four teeth in Norwich … I had my lower teeth removed here six months ago, now I’ve got implants … £2,800 for everything – hotel, transfer, treatments. I only paid the flights separately.

In the UK, roughly half the adult population suffers from periodontitis – inflammation of the gums caused by plaque bacteria that can lead to irreversible loss of gums, teeth, and bone. Regular reviews by a dentist or hygienist are required to manage this condition. But nine out of ten dental practices cannot offer NHS appointments to new adult patients, while eight in ten are not accepting new child patients.

Some UK dentists argue that Britons who travel abroad for treatment do so mainly for cosmetic procedures. They warn that dental tourism is dangerous, and that if their treatment goes wrong, dentists in the UK will be unable to help because they don’t want to be responsible for further damage. Susan shrugs this off:

Dentists in England say: ‘If you go to Turkey, we won’t touch you [afterwards].’ But I don’t worry because there are no appointments at home anyway. They couldn’t help in the first place, and this is why we are in Turkey.

‘How can we pay all this money?’

As a social anthropologist, I travelled to Turkey a number of times in 2023 to investigate the crisis of NHS dentistry, and the journeys abroad that UK patients are increasingly making as a result. I have relatives in Istanbul and have been researching migration and trading patterns in Turkey’s largest city since 2016.

In August 2023, I visited the resort in Antalya, nearly 400 miles south of Istanbul. As well as Susan, I met a group from a village in Wales who said there was no provision of NHS dentistry back home. They had organised a two-week trip to Turkey: the 12-strong group included a middle-aged couple with two sons in their early 20s, and two couples who were pensioners. By going together, Anya tells me, they could support each other through their different treatments:

I’ve had many cavities since I was little … Before, you could see a dentist regularly – you didn’t even think about it. If you had pain or wanted a regular visit, you phoned and you went … That was in the 1990s, when I went to the dentist maybe every year.

Anya says that once she had children, her family and work commitments meant she had no time to go to the dentist. Then, years later, she started having serious toothache:

Every time I chewed something, it hurt. I ate soups and soft food, and I also lost weight … Even drinking was painful – tea: pain, cold water: pain. I was taking paracetamol all the time! I went to the dentist to fix all this, but there were no appointments.

Anya was told she would have to wait months, or find a dentist elsewhere:

A private clinic gave me a list of things I needed done. Oh my God, almost £6,000. My husband went too – same story. How can we pay all this money? So we decided to come to Turkey. Some people we know had been here, and others in the village wanted to come too. We’ve brought our sons too – they also need to be checked and fixed. Our whole family could be fixed for less than £6,000.

By the time they travelled, Anya’s dental problems had turned into a dental emergency. She says she could not live with the pain anymore, and was relying on paracetamol.

In 2023, about 6 million adults in the UK experienced protracted pain (lasting more than two weeks) caused by toothache. Unintentional paracetamol overdose due to dental pain is a significant cause of admissions to acute medical units. If left untreated, tooth infections can spread to other parts of the body and cause life-threatening complications – and on rare occasions, death.

In February 2024, police were called to manage hundreds of people queuing outside a newly opened dental clinic in Bristol, all hoping to be registered or seen by an NHS dentist. One in ten Britons have admitted to performing “DIY dentistry”, of which 20% did so because they could not find a timely appointment. This includes people pulling out their teeth with pliers and using superglue to repair their teeth.

In the 1990s, dentistry was almost entirely provided through NHS services, with only around 500 solely private dentists registered. Today, NHS dentist numbers in England are at their lowest level in a decade, with 23,577 dentists registered to perform NHS work in 2022-23, down 695 on the previous year. Furthermore, the precise division of NHS and private work that each dentist provides is not measured.

The COVID pandemic created longer waiting lists for NHS treatment in an already stretched public service. In Bridlington, Yorkshire, people are now reportedly having to wait eight-to-nine years to get an NHS dental appointment with the only remaining NHS dentist in the town.

In his book Patients of the State (2012), Argentine sociologist Javier Auyero describes the “indignities of waiting”. It is the poor who are mostly forced to wait, he writes. Queues for state benefits and public services constitute a tangible form of power over the marginalised. There is an ethnic dimension to this story, too. Data suggests that in the UK, patients less likely to be effective in booking an NHS dental appointment are non-white ethnic groups and Gypsy or Irish travellers, and that it is particularly challenging for refugees and asylum-seekers to access dental care.

This article is part of Conversation Insights
The Insights team generates long-form journalism derived from interdisciplinary research. The team is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects aimed at tackling societal and scientific challenges.

In 2022, I experienced my own dental emergency. An infected tooth was causing me debilitating pain, and needed root canal treatment. I was advised this would cost £71 on the NHS, plus £307 for a follow-up crown – but that I would have to wait months for an appointment. The pain became excruciating – I could not sleep, let alone wait for months. In the same clinic, privately, I was quoted £1,300 for the treatment (more than half my monthly income at the time), or £295 for a tooth extraction.

I did not want to lose my tooth because of lack of money. So I bought a flight to Istanbul immediately for the price of the extraction in the UK, and my tooth was treated with root canal therapy by a private dentist there for £80. Including the costs of travelling, the total was a third of what I was quoted to be treated privately in the UK. Two years on, my treated tooth hasn’t given me any more problems.

A better quality of life

Not everyone is in Antalya for emergency procedures. The pensioners from Wales had contacted numerous clinics they found on the internet, comparing prices, treatments and hotel packages at least a year in advance, in a carefully planned trip to get dental implants – artificial replacements for tooth roots that help support dentures, crowns and bridges.

Street view of a dental clinic in Antalya, Turkey
Dental clinic in Antalya, Turkey. Diana Ibanez-Tirado, CC BY-NC-ND

In Turkey, all the dentists I speak to (most of whom cater mainly for foreigners, including UK nationals) consider implants not a cosmetic or luxurious treatment, but a development in dentistry that gives patients who are able to have the procedure a much better quality of life. This procedure is not available on the NHS for most of the UK population, and the patients I meet in Turkey could not afford implants in private clinics back home.

Paul is in Antalya to replace his dentures, which have become uncomfortable and irritating to his gums, with implants. He says he couldn’t find an appointment to see an NHS dentist. His wife Sonia went through a similar procedure the year before and is very satisfied with the results, telling me: “Why have dentures that you need to put in a glass overnight, in the old style? If you can have implants, I say, you’re better off having them.”

Most of the dental tourists I meet in Antalya are white British: this city, known as the Turkish Riviera, has developed an entire economy catering to English-speaking tourists. In 2023, more than 1.3 million people visited the city from the UK, up almost 15% on the previous year.

Read more: NHS dentistry is in crisis – are overseas dentists the answer?

In contrast, the Britons I meet in Istanbul are predominantly from a non-white ethnic background. Omar, a pensioner of Pakistani origin in his early 70s, has come here after waiting “half a year” for an NHS appointment to fix the dental bridge that is causing him pain. Omar’s son had been previously for a hair transplant, and was offered a free dental checkup by the same clinic, so he suggested it to his father. Having worked as a driver for a manufacturing company for two decades in Birmingham, Omar says he feels disappointed to have contributed to the British economy for so long, only to be “let down” by the NHS:

At home, I must wait and wait and wait to get a bridge – and then I had many problems with it. I couldn’t eat because the bridge was uncomfortable and I was in pain, but there were no appointments on the NHS. I asked a private dentist and they recommended implants, but they are far too expensive [in the UK]. I started losing weight, which is not a bad thing at the beginning, but then I was worrying because I couldn’t chew and eat well and was losing more weight … Here in Istanbul, I got dental implants – US$500 each, problem solved! In England, each implant is maybe £2,000 or £3,000.

In the waiting area of another clinic in Istanbul, I meet Mariam, a British woman of Iraqi background in her late 40s, who is making her second visit to the dentist here. Initially, she needed root canal therapy after experiencing severe pain for weeks. Having been quoted £1,200 in a private clinic in outer London, Mariam decided to fly to Istanbul instead, where she was quoted £150 by a dentist she knew through her large family. Even considering the cost of the flight, Mariam says the decision was obvious:

Dentists in England are so expensive and NHS appointments so difficult to find. It’s awful there, isn’t it? Dentists there blamed me for my rotten teeth. They say it’s my fault: I don’t clean or I ate sugar, or this or that. I grew up in a village in Iraq and didn’t go to the dentist – we were very poor. Then we left because of war, so we didn’t go to a dentist … When I arrived in London more than 20 years ago, I didn’t speak English, so I still didn’t go to the dentist … I think when you move from one place to another, you don’t go to the dentist unless you are in real, real pain.

In Istanbul, Mariam has opted not only for the urgent root canal treatment but also a longer and more complex treatment suggested by her consultant, who she says is a renowned doctor from Syria. This will include several extractions and implants of back and front teeth, and when I ask what she thinks of achieving a “Hollywood smile”, Mariam says:

Who doesn’t want a nice smile? I didn’t come here to be a model. I came because I was in pain, but I know this doctor is the best for implants, and my front teeth were rotten anyway.

Dentists in the UK warn about the risks of “overtreatment” abroad, but Mariam appears confident that this is her opportunity to solve all her oral health problems. Two of her sisters have already been through a similar treatment, so they all trust this doctor.

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An Istanbul clinic founded by Afghan dentists has a message for its UK customers. Diana Ibanez-Tirado, CC BY-NC-ND

The UK’s ‘dental deserts’

To get a fuller understanding of the NHS dental crisis, I’ve also conducted 20 interviews in the UK with people who have travelled or were considering travelling abroad for dental treatment.

Joan, a 50-year-old woman from Exeter, tells me she considered going to Turkey and could have afforded it, but that her back and knee problems meant she could not brave the trip. She has lost all her lower front teeth due to gum disease and, when I meet her, has been waiting 13 months for an NHS dental appointment. Joan tells me she is living in “shame”, unable to smile.

In the UK, areas with extremely limited provision of NHS dental services – known as as “dental deserts” – include densely populated urban areas such as Portsmouth and Greater Manchester, as well as many rural and coastal areas.

In Felixstowe, the last dentist taking NHS patients went private in 2023, despite the efforts of the activist group Toothless in Suffolk to secure better access to NHS dentists in the area. It’s a similar story in Ripon, Yorkshire, and in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, where nearly 25,000 patients have been de-registered from NHS dentists since 2021.

Data shows that 2 million adults must travel at least 40 miles within the UK to access dental care. Branding travel for dental care as “tourism” carries the risk of disguising the elements of duress under which patients move to restore their oral health – nationally and internationally. It also hides the immobility of those who cannot undertake such journeys.

The 90-year-old woman in Dumfries & Galloway who now faces travelling for hours by bus to see an NHS dentist can hardly be considered “tourism” – nor the Ukrainian war refugees who travelled back from West Sussex and Norwich to Ukraine, rather than face the long wait to see an NHS dentist.

Many people I have spoken to cannot afford the cost of transport to attend dental appointments two hours away – or they have care responsibilities that make it impossible. Instead, they are forced to wait in pain, in the hope of one day securing an appointment closer to home.

Billboard advertising a dental clinic in Turkey
Dental clinics have mushroomed in recent years in Turkey, thanks to the influx of foreign patients seeking a wide range of treatments. Diana Ibanez-Tirado, CC BY-NC-ND

‘Your crisis is our business’

The indignities of waiting in the UK are having a big impact on the lives of some local and foreign dentists in Turkey. Some neighbourhoods are rapidly changing as dental and other health clinics, usually in luxurious multi-storey glass buildings, mushroom. In the office of one large Istanbul medical complex with sections for hair transplants and dentistry (plus one linked to a hospital for more extensive cosmetic surgery), its Turkish owner and main investor tells me:

Your crisis is our business, but this is a bazaar. There are good clinics and bad clinics, and unfortunately sometimes foreign patients do not know which one to choose. But for us, the business is very good.

This clinic only caters to foreign patients. The owner, an architect by profession who also developed medical clinics in Brazil, describes how COVID had a major impact on his business:

When in Europe you had COVID lockdowns, Turkey allowed foreigners to come. Many people came for ‘medical tourism’ – we had many patients for cosmetic surgery and hair transplants. And that was when the dental business started, because our patients couldn’t see a dentist in Germany or England. Then more and more patients started to come for dental treatments, especially from the UK and Ireland. For them, it’s very, very cheap here.

The reasons include the value of the Turkish lira relative to the British pound, the low cost of labour, the increasing competition among Turkish clinics, and the sheer motivation of dentists here. While most dentists catering to foreign patients are from Turkey, others have arrived seeking refuge from war and violence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and beyond. They work diligently to rebuild their lives, careers and lost wealth.

Regardless of their origin, all dentists in Turkey must be registered and certified. Hamed, a Syrian dentist and co-owner of a new clinic in Istanbul catering to European and North American patients, tells me:

I know that you say ‘Syrian’ and people think ‘migrant’, ‘refugee’, and maybe think ‘how can this dentist be good?’ – but Syria, before the war, had very good doctors and dentists. Many of us came to Turkey and now I have a Turkish passport. I had to pass the exams to practise dentistry here – I study hard. The exams are in Turkish and they are difficult, so you cannot say that Syrian doctors are stupid.

Hamed talks excitedly about the latest technology that is coming to his profession: “There are always new materials and techniques, and we cannot stop learning.” He is about to travel to Paris to an international conference:

I can say my techniques are very advanced … I bet I put more implants and do more bone grafting and surgeries every week than any dentist you know in England. A good dentist is about practice and hand skills and experience. I work hard, very hard, because more and more patients are arriving to my clinic, because in England they don’t find dentists.

Dental equipment in a Turkish treatment room
Dentists in Turkey boast of using the latest technology. Diana Ibanez-Tirado, CC BY-NC-ND

While there is no official data about the number of people travelling from the UK to Turkey for dental treatment, investors and dentists I speak to consider that numbers are rocketing. From all over the world, Turkey received 1.2 million visitors for “medical tourism” in 2022, an increase of 308% on the previous year. Of these, about 250,000 patients went for dentistry. One of the most renowned dental clinics in Istanbul had only 15 British patients in 2019, but that number increased to 2,200 in 2023 and is expected to reach 5,500 in 2024.

Like all forms of medical care, dental treatments carry risks. Most clinics in Turkey offer a ten-year guarantee for treatments and a printed clinical history of procedures carried out, so patients can show this to their local dentists and continue their regular annual care in the UK. Dental treatments, checkups and maintaining a good oral health is a life-time process, not a one-off event.

Many UK patients, however, are caught between a rock and a hard place – criticised for going abroad, yet unable to get affordable dental care in the UK before and after their return. The British Dental Association has called for more action to inform these patients about the risks of getting treated overseas – and has warned UK dentists about the legal implications of treating these patients on their return. But this does not address the difficulties faced by British patients who are being forced to go abroad in search of affordable, often urgent dental care.

A global emergency

The World Health Organization states that the explosion of oral disease around the world is a result of the “negligent attitude” that governments, policymakers and insurance companies have towards including oral healthcare under the umbrella of universal healthcare. It as if the health of our teeth and mouth is optional; somehow less important than treatment to the rest of our body. Yet complications from untreated tooth decay can lead to hospitalisation.

The main causes of oral health diseases are untreated tooth decay, severe gum disease, toothlessness, and cancers of the lip and oral cavity. Cases grew during the pandemic, when little or no attention was paid to oral health. Meanwhile, the global cosmetic dentistry market is predicted to continue growing at an annual rate of 13% for the rest of this decade, confirming the strong relationship between socioeconomic status and access to oral healthcare.

In the UK since 2018, there have been more than 218,000 admissions to hospital for rotting teeth, of which more than 100,000 were children. Some 40% of children in the UK have not seen a dentist in the past 12 months. The role of dentists in prevention of tooth decay and its complications, and in the early detection of mouth cancer, is vital. While there is a 90% survival rate for mouth cancer if spotted early, the lack of access to dental appointments is causing cases to go undetected.

The reasons for the crisis in NHS dentistry are complex, but include: the real-term cuts in funding to NHS dentistry; the challenges of recruitment and retention of dentists in rural and coastal areas; pay inequalities facing dental nurses, most of them women, who are being badly hit by the cost of living crisis; and, in England, the 2006 Dental Contract that does not remunerate dentists in a way that encourages them to continue seeing NHS patients.

The UK is suffering a mass exodus of the public dentistry workforce, with workers leaving the profession entirely or shifting to the private sector, where payments and life-work balance are better, bureaucracy is reduced, and prospects for career development look much better. A survey of general dental practitioners found that around half have reduced their NHS work since the pandemic – with 43% saying they were likely to go fully private, and 42% considering a career change or taking early retirement.

Reversing the UK’s dental crisis requires more commitment to substantial reform and funding than the “recovery plan” announced by Victoria Atkins, the secretary of state for health and social care, on February 7.

The stories I have gathered show that people travelling abroad for dental treatment don’t see themselves as “tourists” or vanity-driven consumers of the “Hollywood smile”. Rather, they have been forced by the crisis in NHS dentistry to seek out a service 1,500 miles away in Turkey that should be a basic, affordable right for all, on their own doorstep.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect the anonymity of the interviewees.

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Diana Ibanez Tirado receives funding from the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex.

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Beloved mall retailer files Chapter 7 bankruptcy, will liquidate

The struggling chain has given up the fight and will close hundreds of stores around the world.



It has been a brutal period for several popular retailers. The fallout from the covid pandemic and a challenging economic environment have pushed numerous chains into bankruptcy with Tuesday Morning, Christmas Tree Shops, and Bed Bath & Beyond all moving from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation.

In all three of those cases, the companies faced clear financial pressures that led to inventory problems and vendors demanding faster, or even upfront payment. That creates a sort of inevitability.

Related: Beloved retailer finds life after bankruptcy, new famous owner

When a retailer faces financial pressure it sets off a cycle where vendors become wary of selling them items. That leads to barren shelves and no ability for the chain to sell its way out of its financial problems. 

Once that happens bankruptcy generally becomes the only option. Sometimes that means a Chapter 11 filing which gives the company a chance to negotiate with its creditors. In some cases, deals can be worked out where vendors extend longer terms or even forgive some debts, and banks offer an extension of loan terms.

In other cases, new funding can be secured which assuages vendor concerns or the company might be taken over by its vendors. Sometimes, as was the case with David's Bridal, a new owner steps in, adds new money, and makes deals with creditors in order to give the company a new lease on life.

It's rare that a retailer moves directly into Chapter 7 bankruptcy and decides to liquidate without trying to find a new source of funding.

Mall traffic has varied depending upon the type of mall.

Image source: Getty Images

The Body Shop has bad news for customers  

The Body Shop has been in a very public fight for survival. Fears began when the company closed half of its locations in the United Kingdom. That was followed by a bankruptcy-style filing in Canada and an abrupt closure of its U.S. stores on March 4.

"The Canadian subsidiary of the global beauty and cosmetics brand announced it has started restructuring proceedings by filing a Notice of Intention (NOI) to Make a Proposal pursuant to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (Canada). In the same release, the company said that, as of March 1, 2024, The Body Shop US Limited has ceased operations," Chain Store Age reported.

A message on the company's U.S. website shared a simple message that does not appear to be the entire story.

"We're currently undergoing planned maintenance, but don't worry we're due to be back online soon."

That same message is still on the company's website, but a new filing makes it clear that the site is not down for maintenance, it's down for good.

The Body Shop files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy

While the future appeared bleak for The Body Shop, fans of the brand held out hope that a savior would step in. That's not going to be the case. 

The Body Shop filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the United States.

"The US arm of the ethical cosmetics group has ceased trading at its 50 outlets. On Saturday (March 9), it filed for Chapter 7 insolvency, under which assets are sold off to clear debts, putting about 400 jobs at risk including those in a distribution center that still holds millions of dollars worth of stock," The Guardian reported.

After its closure in the United States, the survival of the brand remains very much in doubt. About half of the chain's stores in the United Kingdom remain open along with its Australian stores. 

The future of those stores remains very much in doubt and the chain has shared that it needs new funding in order for them to continue operating.

The Body Shop did not respond to a request for comment from TheStreet.   

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