Weathering the Brexit storm
Over the past few years, Brexit has been likened to a tumultuous storm, the effects of which on the dental profession are difficult to predict. Now that the post-Brexit transition period has officially ended, EU legislative arrangements in place for the movement of goods, services and people no longer apply to the UK, with automatic access to and inclusion within EU regulatory and support systems having also ceased. Although a no-deal Brexit has been averted – much to the relief of many – the future of UK dentistry remains far from certain given that there are numerous variables at play besides the COVID-19 crisis. So, where does this leave the profession?
We won’t know the full cost of the pandemic to the UK economy until the crisis eventually subsides, but there’s no doubt that government borrowing will continue in the bid to offset the financial impact of COVID-19. It is estimated that by the end of this financial year in April 2021, the total sum borrowed by the government will amount to £394 billion – the highest figure ever seen outside wartime.[i] All of this borrowing will come at a price and many economists believe that if the government is to minimise borrowing after the pandemic, it will have to cut spending, raise taxes or, most probably, both.[ii]
Should taxes increase – not to mention more jobs lost owing to the end of the furlough scheme and other financial support packages – many people are likely to have lower incomes. Brexit uncertainty may only compound consumer confidence, discouraging patients from spending on essential services such as dentistry. Optimists, however, argue that lifestyle restrictions and enforced isolation during the pandemic has motivated patients to take greater control of their oral health. Many practices have certainly reported an increase in patients seeking cosmetic and restorative dental treatments, including orthodontics.[iii]
It is thought that the desire to return to normality will continue spurring more patients to invest in the health and appearance of their smile. If this is the case, then UK dentistry may be in an even more precarious position given the on-going issues surrounding Brexit and the recruitment of dental professionals who have trained in the EU. Brexit should not adversely affect the estimated 16–17% of UK dentists who are currently registered with the GDC on the basis of an EU/EEA degree.[iv] However, the GDC will only recognise dental qualifications obtained in EU countries for up to two years whilst it considers a new approach. The process for recognising the qualifications of EU citizens coming to work in the UK after 2022 is currently unclear.
Furthermore, EU citizens that wish to work here now require a visa that complies with the UK’s new points-based immigration system. The necessary points for a visa are likely to be easily met by most dentists, but it is important for practices to be aware that the process could mean more red tape, delays and costs for all involved, especially if practices have been accustomed to recruiting from the EU in order to fulfil their workforce needs.[v] These immigration arrangements – combined with a lower exchange rate for the Pound Sterling – may be enough to dissuade EU dental professionals from joining the UK workforce.
Dental practices can ease recruitment pressures through greater use of skill mix and improved delegation of tasks amongst staff members. Offering more flexible working hours and ensuring the appointment diary is as organised as possible can also support the dental team in maximising surgery time. Furthermore, practices can take advantage of remote technologies and social media platforms to better educate patients about the importance of oral hygiene on dental health, thereby facilitating more effective prevention programmes. In turn, many patients are less likely to need treatment as urgently or as often.
Beyond recruitment, it is thought that Brexit could influence the import and export of dental equipment, materials and medicine to a certain extent. Reaching a deal on Brexit has meant that there are no tariffs on goods trafficked between the UK and EU, but short-term issues with supply could trigger price increases as companies transition to new arrangements, made more challenging by the pandemic. Indeed, our departure from the EU means that all medical devices must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they are placed on the UK market.
However, manufacturers that are not established within the UK are unable to do this unless they appoint a UK Responsible Person to register and act on their behalf.[vi] This could make sourcing dental equipment more difficult, resulting in a potential rise in costs that would likely be passed down from manufacturer to customer. Nevertheless, many dental professionals will be encouraged by the fact that prices for goods remain stable overall, with stock levels of most dental products generally considered appropriate at the time of writing.4
No matter your views on Brexit, a great deal of optimism and teamwork is essential if dentistry is to overcome the challenges and make the most of opportunities that may arise in the future. By planning ahead, dentists can ensure their businesses are in a strong position to move forward and thrive under the long-term changes brought about the UK’s new relationships with the EU, in addition to the COVID-19 crisis. Rest assured that additional support is always available from Dental Elite, who can provide expert advice and guidance with regard to navigating the potential effects of Brexit on your dental practice.
[i] Office for Budget Responsibility. (2020) Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2020. Available at: https://obr.uk/efo/economic-and-fiscal-outlook-november-2020/. [Last accessed: 14.01.21].
[iii] Norton, R. (2021) COVID-19 and cosmetic dentistry: the ‘Zoom boom’. Dental Nursing. Available at: https://www.dental-nursing.co.uk/features/covid-19-and-cosmetic-dentistry-the-zoom-boom. [Last accessed: 14.01.21].
[iv] Woodrow, M. (2020) Brexit and dentistry: Three things you need to know. British Dental Association. Available at: https://bda.org/news-centre/blog/brexit-and-dentistry-three-things-you-need-to-know. [Last accessed: 14.01.21].
[vi] Gov.uk. (2020) Regulating medical devices in the UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/regulating-medical-devices-in-the-uk#requirements-for-those-manufacturing-and-supplying-devices-in-great-britain. [Last accessed: 20.01.21].