Government plans to boost dental workforce by cutting red tape

New proposals would give the General Dental Council powers to provisionally register dentists trained overseas to start delivering care as quickly as possible.

20 February, 2024 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

Patients are set to benefit from plans to boost the dentistry workforce by cutting red tape and making it quicker and easier for dentists from overseas to work in the UK.

Under current rules, highly skilled dentists who qualified overseas and are attempting to register to practise in the UK are required to pass exams that can take years to complete – meaning lengthy delays in them being able to provide dental care.

The UK Government’s proposals – which are the subject of a public consultation1 being launched today (16 February 2024) – mean that the General Dental Council (GDC) would be given new legal powers to provisionally register dentists with overseas qualifications. This would speed up the process and encourage more dentists trained abroad to come to the UK as part of a long-term plan to improve access to dentistry services.

What the plan does not include is any move to empower those best placed to promote oral health – dentists themselves.

Professor Grant McIntyre

Around 30 per cent of all dentists on the GDC register qualified outside of the UK, and in 2022, 46 per cent of new additions to the register were trained overseas. The government’s proposals would mean that overseas-qualified dentists would be able to start practising in the UK as quickly as possible.

Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom said: “Our dental recovery plan will create millions more dental appointments, improve access for patients and ease pressure on the sector. Our hard-working dentists deserve our gratitude and this is the start of our plan to put the sector on a sustainable footing.

“Strengthening the workforce is key to our ambitions and our proposals would abolish red tape that currently prevents fully qualified overseas dentists from working in this country, while ensuring the highest standards of care and patient safety. We have a long-term plan to make access to NHS dental care faster, simpler and fairer for all, and I want to make sure we hear views from across the sector as we drive this forward.”

The GDC would be given autonomy in setting the terms for provisional registrations to ensure the highest levels of patient safety and quality of care are maintained. Those on the provisional register will be able to work in the UK, but only under the supervision of a fully GDC-registered dentist.

The consultation forms part of the government and NHS’s wider dental recovery plan, which aims to significantly improve access to dental care across the country. It goes alongside work as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to increase training places in the UK for dental professionals by 2032, with the number of dentist places increasing by 40 per cent to 1,100.

Other measures in the plan include dentists being offered additional payments for taking on new NHS patients and ‘golden hellos’ worth £20,000 over three years for those willing to go and work in underserved areas. These and other measures are expected to create an additional 2.5 million dental appointments.

Following conclusion of the three-month consultation, responses will be analysed and fed into a final report. They will also be used to finalise the legislation that is planned to be laid before Parliament for MPs to debate.

Dr Yvonne Shaw, Deputy Dental Director at Dental Protection, said: “We look forward to engaging with the GDC as they work towards implementing changes to ensure that overseas graduates receive the necessary support to facilitate their integration into UK dental practice. We shall review the proposals, respond to the consultation, and assess the implications linked to the indemnity of those dentists who will be provisionally registered to practise sooner than they would be otherwise able to under current processes.”

Grant McIntryne, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said: “While the Dental Recovery Plan includes some encouraging elements, is does not go far enough to rescue a dental care system that is chronically overstretched and underfunded.

“We have long called for a focus on prevention rather than reactive treatment and welcome the introduction of the Smile for Life programme and the water fluoridation proposal. The consultation and subsequent roll-out of the latter must be quick and decisive to minimise any further delay to this important action.

“What the plan does not include is any move to empower those best placed to promote oral health – dentists themselves. The recently updated dental payment model in Scotland focuses on prevention rather than reactive treatment, compensating dentists for both aspects. This would be welcomed across the UK, allowing dentists to operate within a system characterised by high trust and minimal bureaucracy, where they can exercise clinical discretion in providing a comprehensive package of both oral health promotion and treatment.

“While the ‘new patient’ payment, ‘golden hellos’, and Dental Vans could in theory extend access to dental care, it is important to note that there must be dental professionals available to deliver this care.

“The pipeline of dentists is worryingly lean, attrition is at a worrying rate, and there is a lack of specialist dental provision to tackle the complex issues patients who have not visited a dentist in years will undoubtedly present with – something our College is trying to remedy with our new suite of Dental Diploma Examinations which will provide recognition of expertise in seven key specific areas of dentistry for general dental practitioners. Without further support for dental professionals, the knock-on effect could be even greater pressure on secondary care.

“We look forward to consulting with the Government to address these areas of concern.”

Responding to the proposals, John Makin, head of the Dental Defence Union (DDU), said: “It’s important that the GDC makes the process of registration for colleagues who qualified overseas as smooth as possible while discharging its key duty, that of ensuring patient safety.

“The implications of the proposals, following hot on the heels of recent changes to the requirements for entry to Performers Lists, are significant. The challenges include the need to arrange appropriate supervision of potentially significant numbers of provisionally registered dentists.

“In light of this, we’ll be carefully reviewing the government proposals, assessing the potential risks to those involved and contributing to the consultation on behalf of members. Our members will want to ensure public safety comes first, as will all healthcare professionals reviewing these proposals.”

1Consultation on provisional registration for overseas-qualified dentists

Tags: Dental Protection / GDC / Overseas / RCSEd

Categories: News

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