COVID-19: GDC guidance for dental professionals
These remain difficult and worrying times for us all as we navigate the many challenges we face and try to develop good solutions to problems as they emerge.
For the GDC's part, we are being guided by two main principles. When developing our approach, we are seeking to:
- minimise the regulatory burden on dental professionals wherever possible
- maximise flexibility for dental professionals to manage their professional activities in response to the challenges of COVID-19.
Ongoing infection prevention and control measures in dentistry and managing patient expectations
Your professional judgement and our approach to regulation
Expert advice on the clinical aspects of COVID-19 will continue to come from the health authorities of the four nations and we will continue to signpost to this guidance as and when it is updated. But that guidance will inevitably not cover every potential scenario, and therefore, dental professionals will need to continue exercising their professional judgement and weigh the risks in any given situation. They will also need to continue to assess whether they are trained, competent and indemnified to carry out the activity in question.
In a joint statement from healthcare regulators in January 2021, we said that we understand that in highly challenging circumstances, professionals may need to depart from established procedures to care for patients and that should concerns be raised, relevant environmental and human factors would be taken into account.
We have also published supplementary advice which provides a lasting point of reference for GDC decision makers about the factors they should take into account in considering the impact of COVID-19 on a professional’s ability to deliver care.
We have published information and FAQs on the vaccine for dental professionals on our COVID-19 vaccination guidance page.
Working outside of normal role (including on the vaccination programme)
Some dental professionals have been asked, or are volunteering, to use their professional skills and experience outside the normal range of dental and oral health activities, including on the vaccination programme. As a regulator, we want to support that activity and our registrants taking part in it, while keeping to the fundamental need to do so in ways which support patient safety.
When a dental professional is providing support to the wider NHS, the same basic principles apply as in any other situation: the test is whether they are trained, competent and indemnified for the tasks they undertake.
When working outside of their normal role, registrants should satisfy themselves that they are competent to perform the tasks being asked of them, or are given the training necessary to equip them to do so.
We expect registrants to make a considered judgement about whether they are trained and competent; we do not expect them to limit themselves to the specific activities set out in their scope of practice. That doesn’t make scope of practice irrelevant: it will be a useful starting point for considering what wider tasks are appropriate, but it does not in itself constrain dental professionals’ ability to support the COVID-19 response.
With regards to indemnity, the organisation in which professionals are working or their individual indemnity provider will be able to confirm if cover is in place.
Our approach to fitness to practise
The impact of COVID-19 is being felt in every aspect of society, and fitness to practise is no exception to this.
With regards to new issues, people will continue to have legitimate concerns and it’s important that they are able to raise them with us. If they do, we are under a legal duty to investigate.
While the pandemic continues, we will continue to record and make a risk assessment of new fitness to practise concerns, as well as continuing to progress new and existing cases as far as we can.
We began some remote hearings in March 2020, and we continue to hear cases in this way wherever appropriate. Where applications are made for a hearing to be heard in person during the period of COVID-19 restrictions, a GDC hearing committee will decide how the matter should be heard.
You can find out more about remote hearings in our guidance and frequently asked questions.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training for dental professionals
Resuscitation Council (UK) recommends cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training for dental teams.
Their document Quality Standards: Primary Dental Care states:
“Dental practitioners and other dental healthcare staff should update their knowledge and skills in resuscitation at least annually.”
In this joint statement with the Care Quality Commission, we recognise that COVID-19 social distancing can make accessing accredited training difficult. This includes Basic Life Support (BLS) and Immediate Life Support (ILS).
Providers and individual dental professionals should continue to make every effort to complete accredited BLS/ILS training annually. However, if this training is unavailable due to current COVID-19 restrictions, appropriate alternative provisions, in accordance with relevant government guidance, should be made.
- Self-directed study.
- Team-based scenario training in the clinical environment.
Records and evidence of efforts made to access training and to update CPR knowledge and skills should be maintained.
Further information on medical emergencies CPD is available on our Recommended Topics page.
Remote consulting and prescribing
Where patients cannot go to a dental surgery, you may be asked to provide advice remotely and to work with patients to defer the need for active treatment through the use of pain control and antimicrobial treatment.
The 10 high-level principles of remote consultation and prescribing, developed jointly with the other healthcare regulators, continue to apply and, while the pandemic continues, the key requirement is to make an appropriate clinical risk assessment.
Remote prescribing protocol can be found in NHS England's COVID-19 guidance and standard operating procedure.
Information for students
Training and education have been severely disrupted by COVID-19 and we have been working with education providers to ensure that as many students as possible can still have a smooth transition into practice.
Together, we have prepared a joint statement setting out our shared approach which we recommend all students and recent graduates read. Further information will be shared here as soon as it becomes available.
The Overseas Registration Exam (ORE)
Safety restrictions brought in as part of the COVID-19 response in 2020 made it necessary to suspend Parts 1 and 2 of the Overseas Registration Exam (ORE) in early 2020. In February 2022 we were happy to announce the full resumption of both parts of the ORE and published the full 2022 Part 1 and Part 2 schedule.
Because the Part 2 exam takes place in a clinical setting, enhanced COVID-19 restrictions over and above those in place for broader society meant resumption of the ORE was not viable until recently. The announcement of the full 2022 ORE schedule marks an important milestone in the recovery of international routes to registration.
Long-standing capacity issues with the ORE, which were exacerbated by the pandemic, will continue until restrictive legislation is changed to enable us to start making much needed improvements. The Government recognise this and is currently consulting on proposals to address these issues. We support these proposals and encourage everyone with an interest in international routes to registration to read the proposals and respond to the questions in the consultation, which closes on Friday 6 May.