Time to simplify re-registration
Professionals are being deprived of income while they await restoration and patients are experiencing needless delays in being treated
According to the General Dental Council (GDC), the number of dentists on the UK Register – following the most recently documented annual renewal period – “has remained stable and in line with the trajectory of previous years”. After removals, there were 42,215 dentists on the Register: an increase on the equivalent figure for 2021.
This year, 1,079 dentists did not renew their registration, which is 2.56 per cent of those on the Register as of 31 December 2021. This compares with an average of 2.96 per cent over the previous four years. Gurvinder Soomal, the GDC’s Chief Operating Officer, said that this apparent stability was “encouraging” following such a challenging period in dentistry which, he added, “continues for many”.
It should be noted that the Register provides only a partial view; it does not provide insight into the number of professionals working in different patterns (e.g., full time vs part time), how many dentists are working in NHS services compared with private practice, local variations in the workforce, or the numbers of professionals working in different roles (e.g., academia).
That number – 42,215 – was published in January; usefully, the GDC also provides a monthly snapshot and, according to the most recent (September), it has increased to 43,817. All this would seem to suggest a somewhat reassuring picture of the strength of the dentist workforce. Of course, we know this not to be the case. Practices are confronted with an unprecedented treatment backlog. They are struggling to recruit staff. Some feel they have no option but to remove patients from their list.
What does not especially help dental professionals is the GDC’s re-registration process if it lapses accidentally for non-payment of the GDC’s annual retention fee (ARF). The Dental Defence Union has noted that some of their members are being removed from the register due to administrative problems when paying the ARF, such as direct debit failure. A little over a year ago, the GDC introduced the option to pay the ARF by quarterly instalments, meaning there are more opportunities for problems to occur.
The defence organisation says it is aware of a small but significant number of members who are waiting several weeks to be restored. It is asking the GDC to simplify and speed up the process of re-registration for those affected. At the same time, it has urged dental professionals to set up a reminder ahead of the ARF due date to prevent their registration accidentally lapsing.
As John Makin, Head of the DDU, pointed out recently: “With patients in some parts of the UK experiencing significant difficulties in accessing dental care, we need as many dental professionals as possible practising. Unfortunately, a small but significant number of members have been unable to treat patients after their registration lapsed due to bank errors or missed correspondence.”
The GDC’s website currently indicates a target of three working weeks, increasing during busy periods. However, some people are waiting for two months or more to be restored. This is, as Mr Makin observed, hugely disappointing in the current climate. While it is the responsibility of dental professionals to ensure renewal by keeping their contact and bank details up to date, it is also now vital that the GDC makes the administrative process as simple and speedy as possible, which is not the case currently.
The re-registration process should be simplified; not only is it extremely stressful for the dental professionals involved, who cannot earn an income while they await restoration, but it means many dental patients are experiencing needless inconvenience and delays.