The way forward on specialist list assessed applications (SLAA)

02 February, 2023 by Stefan Czerniawski

As well as keeping registers of all dentists and dental care professionals who are entitled to practise in the UK, we also hold lists of registered dentists who are entitled to use one of the 13 specialist titles recognised by the GDC. These titles are designed to protect the public against inaccurate claims of specialist skills and to help employers and others recognise dentists with specialist skills and experience.  

Joining the specialist lists 

Dental professionals registered with the GDC and who have completed an approved specialist training programme in the UK may apply for the award of a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST) and entry onto the relevant specialist list.  
GDC-registered dentists who do not hold a CCST can apply to join a specialist list by submitting evidence that they have an equivalent level of knowledge and experience gained in other ways. This is also known as an assessed application.  
These applications are made to the GDC and assessed by Specialist Advisory Committees (SACs), which are intercollegiate bodies within the Royal Colleges that advise on higher specialist training in the dental specialties.  

The specialist list assessment applications route has been paused since early 2022  

Although we continue to receive new applications, the process of applications being assessed by the SACs was paused in March 2022. That has resulted in some dentists having to wait much longer than normal to receive a decision on their application. That is understandably very frustrating for the candidates affected, and in some cases causes particular difficulty where offers of employment depend on having a specialist title. We want to explain why this has happened, the steps taken to resolve it and the approach which will now be taken.  
For some time, stakeholders involved in this application route have been working together to identify how the process can be improved. A working group was established in 2019, including the SACs, applicants, the British Dental Association and training and examination providers to identify where the SLAA process could be simplified, standardised, and streamlined and to help the GDC and the Royal Colleges implement proposals.  
During this period, the ongoing work also had to respond to changes to European legislation, and the impact of COVID-19. It’s helpful that the majority of proposals from this group were implemented, but some issues remained.  

Steps taken since March 2022  

When the assessments were paused, we highlighted our concerns about the effect of the delays and asked COPDEND whether, wherever possible, applicants are given additional time by their employers to provide evidence of specialist listing.  

Alongside the SACs and Deans of the Royal Colleges, we’ve continued to look at ways of improving the assessment process to ensure that it supports the efficient and effective assessment of applications and has the capacity to manage the volume of applications in each of the specialty areas. In the current system, there is no direct contact between the GDC and those undertaking the assessments within the SACs, which can result in a disjointed user experience and makes the overall process more complicated than it needs to be.  Where applications are turned down, there is a right of appeal against the decision and we also need to address concerns about how that process works. 

A new approach for assessing specialist list applications   

All of this makes for continued delays with a direct effect on dentists who need to use this route to acquire a specialist title, as well as their employers and, ultimately, patients. We need to find ways of addressing concerns and streamlining the process. 
After careful consideration informed by discussion of the issues with Deans of the Royal Colleges and others, we have decided that the GDC will in future administer the scheme directly and we will also make changes to the process for considering appeals. 
We have set up a project team to plan and implement this new approach. This will involve some changes to ensure that we have the right capacity and capability within the GDC to manage the process. But most importantly, we need to recruit assessors with the specialist skills and experience needed to give us rigorous and objective advice on whether applicants have met the high standards needed for admission to the specialty lists. We hope to work closely with the SACs on defining the roles and ensuring that we identify appropriate assessors. 

All of that will take some further time to put in place, but we currently expect to be able to restart the assessment of applications by the end of June this year, at which point we can begin to address the current backlog of applications.   

Wider improvements to the assessed application process  

Our first priority is to restart the initial assessment of applications. But we will also be taking steps to improve the operation of the appeals process and considering whether changes to the formal rules which govern specialist list applications are needed to make the process fully effective. Some of the rules derive from European Union legislation which continues to apply in the UK and we will also be exploring with the DHSC how those requirements might be amended as part of the Government’s wider work on reviewing the continued application of EU law in the UK. 
As we introduce these changes, we will continue to work in collaboration with the Royal Colleges and the SACs. Their specialist professional expertise is a vital element in the wider system, through the work they do in setting and maintaining the curricula for dental speciality training and in their experience and expertise in assessing candidates. 

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