A view from the Chair: Progress on international registration standards and understanding the dental sector

05 July, 2023 by Lord Toby Harris

Last month saw the government confirm that standstill provisions providing for automatic recognition of European dentists’ qualifications will be retained for a further period of five years. This is welcome news for the GDC, as this time will allow for modernisation and meaningful improvements to regulatory processes – before European qualifications need to be assessed.

In May, the GDC tripled the number of places for Part 1 of the Overseas Registration Exam, offering more places for dentists who qualify outside the UK or the EU and who want to join the GDC register to practise in the UK.

This month, we’ve started the consultation on new rules for registration of dentists and dental care professionals who qualify outside the UK or Europe. As I’ve said before, these rules propose changes that will help with the capacity and structure of the assessment in the short term, when the current legislation falls away in March 2024.

However, as part of the consultation, we’re also calling for views about what alternative routes and ways there might be of assessing internationally qualified dental professionals. We will use these to inform our thinking about the longer-term improvements required.

I urge everyone with an interest in education, assessment and standards to feed into this process.

Exploring the best way to provide standards and guidance

The GDC’s Council recently agreed to an engagement exercise in the Autumn, where we want to explore the best way to provide guidance and standards for dental professionals.

We’ve recently consulted on some guidance – scope of practice, indemnity and insurance and others. Feedback on these consultations has useful insight into features such as the level of prescription and what constitutes professional judgement.

The current Standards for the Dental Team are 10 years old and we want to update them – but we want to work with stakeholders across the four nations to find the right model, pace, information and support required to do this well – before we take any steps towards it. Expect to see more information about how we plan to do this shortly.

Informing the public debate about NHS dentistry

The  NHS Long Term Workforce Plan was published last week. It includes an intention that programmes for dental therapy and hygiene professionals need to expand by 20–40% and for dentistry places by 23–40% as soon as possible, as well as a national ‘Return to Therapy’ programme being developed to enable dental therapists working as hygienists to fulfil their full scope of practice.

These are obviously matters in which the GDC has an interest and role, and we will work through what the plans mean for us in due course.

In the meantime, the GDC's Council remain committed to working with others to illuminate public sector debate about NHS dentistry.

We know the absolute numbers of dental professionals but we have little information about, for example, whether they practise full time, and how much of their work is related to the NHS. This would be immensely helpful in informing the wider debate about NHS workforce requirements and plans, so we’re looking into capturing some simple workforce data as part of the dentist annual renewal process.  We would have to make sure that this did not compromise the core renewal process itself. And it would have to be on a voluntary basis.

Key to this is active support from the wider dental community, and we will be engaging with stakeholders on this shortly.

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