A light at the end of the tunnel?: The Probe

A light at the end of the tunnel?

 It’s no secret that, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the dental recruitment landscape was suffering. Large swathes of dental professionals, from dentists to dental nurses, were leaving the profession, or cited that they were considering a career change. Many feel burdened by the patient backlogs, skeleton teams and their NHS commitments. Exacerbated by the cost-of-living and energy crises, many patients are left unable to find an NHS dentist and access the care they need.

It’s abundantly clear that real change is needed to help dental professionals and their patients. Interestingly, there have been talks about the General Dental Council (GDC) legislative framework for international registration overseas, with proposals made to make the pathway for candidates easier. What could this mean for dental recruitment?

Practising in the UK

According to the GDC, approximately a third of new registrations in 2021 were dental professionals who gained their primary qualification outside of the UK.[i] 30% were EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss qualified, while 9% had qualified elsewhere.[ii] Clearly, dentists who have gained their qualifications overseas make up a large percentage of our workforce, but the pathway for them is far from easy. One route for dentists who are qualified abroad is to sit the Overseas Registration Exam (ORE), in order for them to become registered with the GDC. Essentially, those who wish to practise dentistry in the UK must demonstrate their ‘competence, knowledge and familiarity’ with various areas within dentistry through the ORE.

It’s important that dentists who wish to practise in the UK are able to demonstrate that they can practise safely, for obvious reasons, but common complaints made about the ORE are the high fees, limited capacity and the fact the exam is split into two parts, which candidates must apply to separately. To further exacerbate the issue, the pandemic meant that the exams were suspended, leaving many candidates in a frustrating position. The recent announcements about potential reforms to the legislations surrounding international candidates and registration will, undoubtedly, be welcome by many, but what will it actually mean for dentistry?

What does this mean?

In order to allow the GDC to streamline the international registration process, the government is considering putting into place several proposals that were put forward. This comes as a result of a public consultation, conducted by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which sought views from both the GDC and Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). One of the reforms tackled in the public consultation was: ‘The requirement that an assessment for overseas dentists, such as the Overseas Registration Exam (ORE), must be provided by dental authorities, or a group of dental authorities, is removed’. Another was to grant the GDC the flexibility to ‘apply a range of assessment options’ to determine if international dentists and dental care professionals (DCPs) are fit to practise dentistry in the UK. Another outcome was to make up the lost time for candidates seeking to sit the ORE, but had to put it on hold due to COVID-19.

Hope on the horizon?

These proposals would allow the GDC more flexibility to make the registration route easier for individuals, while still ensuring that they demonstrate the standards necessary to practise in the UK. Some have voiced their concern that these changes are simply to fill in the widening gaps in the UK dental workforce – is this the case? The ripples caused by the numerous societal crises in the past few years continue to be felt, that can definitely be confirmed. Dentists and DCPs are leaving the profession, patients are unable to receive the care they need… a higher number of dentists and DCPs is not an unwelcome prospect. However, change to the rigid legislation would simply make the overseas registration process easier for those wishing to practise in the UK, giving those individuals more agency and the ability to plan more effectively for their careers and life in the UK. It’s not a total remedy to our recruitment crisis, but it may help make the pathway more straightforward for our overseas dentists and DCPs, who do make up a considerable proportion of our workforce.

As always, it’ll be some time before the changes made by these proposed reforms are felt by the wider profession and their patient bases. But, it’s a positive step forward nonetheless, to make the process less stressful for candidates, while ensuring they can still provide exceptional levels of dentistry.

[i] www.gdc-uk.org. (n.d.). Reform of legislation governing international routes to registration moves a step closer. [online] Available at: https://www.gdc-uk.org/news-blogs/news/detail/2022/11/30/reform-of-legislation-governing-international-routes-to-registration-moves-a-step-closer [Accessed 18 Jan. 2023].

[ii] GOV.UK. (2022). Changes to the General Dental Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s international registration legislation: government response. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-general-dental-council-and-the-nursing-and-midwifery-councils-international-registration-legislation/outcome/changes-to-the-general-dental-council-and-the-nursing-and-midwifery-councils-international-registration-legislation-government-response#:~:text=the%20GDC%20will%20be%20able,qualifications%20which%20reflect%20UK%20standards [Accessed 19 Jan. 2023].