UK Dental Therapists Eye Victory

UK Dental Therapists Eye Victory

After a three year long campaign, the British Association of Dental Therapists is just one step away from  its goal of securing the integrity of the UK’s dental therapy profession. 

On Friday, the General Dental Council finally published its commitment to closing the route by which overseas-qualified dentists are  registering as dental care professionals (DCP’s).

In 2019, GDPUK exclusively revealed that the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT) had highlighted that overseas dentists were securing work as dental therapists, without having to undergo a practical assessment of their clinical skills.

GDPUK found that a high percentage of dentists from outside the EU who sought registration with the GDC were failing the practical element of the Overseas Registration Examination (ORE), and yet the GDC was still registering overseas dentists as either dental therapists or dental hygienists with no practical assessment of their dexterity and clinical skills.

A large number of consultancy firms appeared both in the UK and abroad, offering services to help dentist candidates with their applications for dental care professional registration with the GDC.

As recently as January of 2022, 55% of ORE candidates failed the Part 2 examination, which includes the practical manikin examination.

The manikin (phantom head) examination was failed by 42% of candidates at the January sitting. Over the past three years, GDPUK has been shown a number of examples of overseas dentists who have failed the ORE, but have still been registered as dental therapists and have been allowed to prepare and restore teeth.

The GDC’s change of heart on the matter appears to have been due to the pressure applied by the BADT, supported by the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT).

In September 2019, the GDC was resolute that its processes for registering dentists as dental therapists was ‘robust’ and claimed there was no evidence to seek changes to address the concerns raised by the BADT, BSDHT, the British Dental Association and the larger dental indemnity organisations.

The ‘robust’ process involved the assessment of dental undergraduate curriculums and other purely paperwork-based assessments.

The GDC began registering overseas dental care professionals in 2016, under Section 60 of the Dentists Act 1984. 

The GDC sought no change in legislation in order to begin registering overseas dentists in this way, yet a spokesperson  told GDPUK in 2019 “Whilst we are able to seek changes to the Dentists Act 1984 by virtue of section 60, this process requires significant GDC and Parliamentary time and resource.”

“The (previous) statements provided set out the robust processes in place to ensure individuals have the requisite level of knowledge, skill and experience prior to being able to join the Registers and, until there is evidence to the contrary, there are insufficient grounds to seek changes under section 60.”

But on Friday, the GDC published its response to the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation on  ‘Changes to the General Dental Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council's international registration legislation.’

The GDC website said “The proposals will close the route for overseas-qualified dentists to register as dental care professionals. This will reflect the spirit of the legislation and mirror current arrangements for UK-qualified dentists.” 

In its introduction to the dental regulator’s consultation response to the consultation, the GDC still maintained its stance that assessment processes are ‘robust.’

The GDC said “For dental care professionals, we conduct an assessment of qualifications and experience known as the Overseas Dental Care Professional Assessment Process. One of the consequences of the backlog in the ORE, is that some internationally qualified dentists who have not yet achieved registration have sought to register as dental care professionals while they wait to take the ORE.”

“We are confident in the robustness of that process, and we have not seen fitness to practise concerns increasing since these registration applications started to arise in 2016.”

The GDC continued “Nevertheless, this is inconsistent with the position for UK qualified dentists who…are not permitted to register as a dental care professional. We consider that it is important to assess internationally qualified dentists across the full scope of their professional competence and we therefore welcome the proposal to bring about parity.”

“While we understand this may have an impact on internationally qualified dentists waiting to register as dentists, we have restored the ORE and will be working to increase its capacity as a matter of urgency over 2022 and 2023, if the proposals in this consultation are carried forward. Increasing the capacity of the ORE will remove the driver for internationally qualified dentists to seek registration and employment as a dental care professional.”

The BADT led an intense campaign to effect a change in the GDC’s registration process.

Greeting the consultation in February 2022, then BADT Chair Debbie Hemington welcomed the proposal for the much needed changes to the Dentists Act. 

Ms Hemington said “It has taken a long, concerted effort by members of  BADT joined by BSDHT, as well as other professional bodies, to get the Government and the  General Dental Council to take our safety concerns on board and positively act on them.”

“The standards of UK-trained dental therapists is high and the profession welcomes the closure of this obvious ‘loophole’ in the Dentists Act which had the potential to undermine the integrity of dental therapy.”

The BADT’s President-elect added “It also ensures a level playing field by bringing registration in line with the requirements placed on UK graduates.”

Well-known dental therapist Shaun Howe, whose contribution to the campaign to close the DCP route to registration Debbie Hemington described as ‘pivotal’ said “Whilst we understand that change takes time, it was clear from 2017 onwards that a loophole was being maximised by individuals and companies.”

“From a personal perspective, this has and continues to damage those UK trained individuals seeking employment. At last, the loophole is closing, protecting the patients of UK dentistry.”

The GDC’s response to the consultation can be found here.

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