Earlier this month, the legislation governing our international registration processes was amended, providing the framework we need to modernise our rules and processes. Explaining the position to peers in the House of Lords, the GDC’s Chair, Lord Toby Harris, said:
“Removing the overly prescriptive constrains is a vital first step towards creating a more effective system but it does not provide an immediate increase in the dental workforce.”
Less than one month on from the legislation changes, we want to explain the immediate impact on candidates with overseas qualifications who want to join the register and what we are doing to modernise international registration in the short and longer term.
What do the international registration reforms do?
The amendments essentially provide us with a flexible framework that allows us to set rules and amend routes to registration for professionals who qualify outside the UK. We plan to use these powers to update our registration processes for all overseas applicants.
The standards that we apply for registration have not changed.
Some changes took effect on 8 March, which we welcomed to ensure a fair and consistent process. These were:
- Those who were unable to sit Part 2 of our Overseas Registration Exam (ORE), while it was suspended due to controls put in place during the pandemic, now have more time to sit the exam.
- Those applying to the dental care professional (DCP) register will now need to hold a relevant DCP qualification, and cannot rely solely on a diploma in dentistry, aligning international qualification requirements with those for UK applicants.
What have been the immediate impacts?
Around 750 ORE candidates now have more time available to sit the exam. We have provided all affected candidates with their new time limit, and those approaching their deadline have been offered a priority place on the April sitting of Part 2. It will be the second sitting of Part 2 this year, with 90 dentists passing in January. We currently have around 200 candidates who are in the process of applying for their first sitting of Part 1 of the ORE.
The changes made to qualification requirements for DCPs are having a more substantial impact. To give some sense of scale, in 2019 we added around 300 DCPs to the register whose qualifications were gained outside the UK. The process was designed to deal with these kinds of numbers.
From 2020, coinciding with the suspension of the ORE, the number of applications to the DCP register started to increase year on year, with the vast majority of applications based on a diploma in dentistry. By 2022, the proportion of DCPs added to the register who held an overseas dentists’ qualification was over 90%. We continued to raise the issue with the Department of Health and Social Care, and pressed the urgent need for regulatory reform.
By the end of 2022 we had around 2,400 applications to be processed. Since the start of this year, we have received another 3,300 applications, with two thirds of these arriving the week before the legislative change came into effect. The number of applications to be processed now stands at around 5,700. All applications need to be assessed by our registration caseworkers and the Registration Assessment Panel, which currently has capacity to review around 150 applications per month, or 1,800 per year.
We are looking to increase the capacity of our registration team again, but there are resource implications for our Council to consider. Recruiting has also not been without its challenges, as explained by Gurvinder Soomal, Chief Operating Officer, earlier this year.
The number of people affected by these delays will be smaller than the number of applications, as some people have applied for more than one DCP title. But the implications are clear, if you submitted an application to us to join the DCP register with an overseas qualification this year, you could be waiting one to two years for a decision. We are processing applications in the order that they were received.
We are not able to accept applications that arrived after the legislation changed on 8 March. Anyone in this position is being contacted to ask if they would like their original documentation returned, and notified that we’ll be securely disposing of their application. We appreciate that this will be disappointing news for these applicants.
Putting a deadline on applications from those with a diploma in dentistry has created higher than expected demand on this route to registration, but the numbers should now start falling as we tackle the backlog. We’re developing plans to ensure these applications are appropriately assessed as quickly as we can, and looking towards creating new rules and processes.
What is the plan for a fully reformed process?
Our longer term plan is to develop a comprehensive framework of routes to registration for professionals who have qualified overseas, while maintaining the standards that protect the public. Developing this framework will take some time, and while that goes on, we need to continue to enable access to the register. In the short term, this means continuing with current arrangements – the ORE for dentists, and assessed applications for DCPs.
In 2023, we will be consulting on two sets of new Rules: one to replace the current ORE Rules, and one to set out the process for dealing with applications from DCPs who have qualified overseas. We anticipate that these new rules will come into effect in 2024.
We will of course engage with and consult stakeholders as we move forward with the development of the longer-term plans for the comprehensive framework. Until such time as we have concluded those consultations and the new rules take effect, we will continue with the previous criteria applied for processing applications from DCPs with qualifications obtained overseas, except that applications to the DCP register are now only open to those with DCP qualifications.