A view from the GDC's Chair: Regulating the whole dental team

05 January, 2022 by Lord Toby Harris

I would like to start by thanking everyone working to deliver dental services and those supporting them for all you have done, and continue to do, to ensure patients can safely access the care they need in these challenging and uncertain times. I am sure I’m not alone in hoping that we would by now be seeing the worst effects of the pandemic behind us. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to put huge pressure on dentistry and oral healthcare in the UK. As the regulator of the whole dental team, we respect and appreciate the continued efforts to provide safe and effective patient care in these difficult circumstances.

Regulating the whole dental team

Last year, I had really productive conversations with the Chairs of other regulators. One of the many helpful points we discussed is that in some healthcare settings, professionals are often regulated by different organisations. For example, nurses in a hospital setting are regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, working alongside doctors who are regulated by the General Medical Council, and Operating Department Practitioners who are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council.

It is for others to consider this model in the context of structural reform of healthcare regulators, but our role as the regulator of the whole dental team in all four nations of the UK is unique to the GDC. I regard this responsibility for regulating the whole dental team as particularly important: it means that the GDC understands the scope of practice and standards for everyone in the team, and we recognise that all members of the dental team have a crucial role to play. It also means that we understand the dynamics and interactions between different roles in the dental team and work with all the professions to make sure this is understood.

I will continue to meet representatives of the dental professions in the next few months, where no doubt these conversations will continue.

Signs of progress on the Overseas Registration Examination (ORE)

There is no doubt that the pandemic has exacerbated the problems caused by the legislative constraints on the ORE. This has created very difficult circumstances for many dentists who want to practise dentistry in the UK. In recent years, about a third of dentists registering with the GDC have done so on the basis of qualifications from outside the UK, and they now make up nearly a quarter of all dentists on the register. They are a vital part of the workforce.

The GDC’s Strategy Director, Stefan Czerniawski, has provided more detail about the challenges of the ORE that were made worse by the pandemic. Because of the Part 2 exams being suspended during the pandemic, there’s been a long and frustrating period of uncertainty for candidates, acutely felt by around 132 people who have been caught by the rule which says that Part 2 must be passed within five years of first attempting Part 1.  

We are unable to exercise any discretion or change the law ourselves, but it is very encouraging that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has indicated that it plans to consult upon changes to that part of our legislation in early 2022. This could provide candidates with additional time to take the Part 2 assessment in future. We are optimistic that it will lead to a solution and the GDC will continue to keep candidates updated with further information when it’s available.

The future dental team is very important

It is important that we engage with the 5,400 new dental students and trainees who take up places each year to train to become members of the wider dental team.

Between January and April this year, the GDC will be meeting students and trainees from every dental profession and education provider to understand their perception of us, explain our role and talk about professionalism. It will be an opportunity to hear from students in the early stages of their dentistry careers, and for us to recognise the contribution they will be making by joining the profession.

The future dental team will join registered dental professionals to make a real difference to the lives of patients. As dentistry continues to evolve and innovate during their career, this next generation of dental professionals will lead the developments that will continue to drive dentistry forward.

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