GDC Struggles To Meet A Core Responsibility

GDC Struggles To Meet A Core Responsibility

As the access crisis deepens, there is more bad news for the millions of patients struggling to find a dentist.

One of the main planks in plans to increase the availability of NHS care, has always been to get overseas qualified dentists to work in the UK.

There is a long history of poorly conceived dental workforce planning in the UK.

Older dentists will remember phases of expansion in student numbers, followed by dental school closures because of oversupply, and then new dental schools opening to try and make up for shortages. Resorting to building new dental schools is not a quick fix, since it takes many years to produce working dentists.

Fortunately, a steady stream of overseas trained dentists for many years have  arrived in the UK to help keep surgeries open. With reciprocal arrangements for EU graduates coming to an end all overseas graduates will now need to sit and pass the Overseas Registrants Exam (ORE) if they are to join the register.

The ORE has now become a major bottleneck in the supply of dentists. The exam is administered by the GDC and comprises two parts. The exams are set twice annually and there are limits on the numbers that can take part. There is the added hurdle of a time limit to complete Part 2 before the certification of Part 1 lapses.

The ORE was suspended during the pandemic, with Part 2 exams restarting in January 2022. Two sittings of Part 1 will take place this year, with up to 3 sittings, subject to demand, of Part 2.

There is a maximum of 200 applicants at each sitting of Part 1, which the GDC describe as “a computer based examination.” Combined with the backlog of applicants who could not be examined during the pandemic, this always looked unlikely to meet demand.

Not for the first time, the GDC claims that existing legislation is part of the problem. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is holding a consultation proposing changes to the GDC international registration legislation, which the ORE falls under. It aims to provide greater flexibility to amend the international registration process, which is currently constrained by prescriptive detail in existing legislation.

The response to an FOI from Dental Protection, has confirmed that there is a major problem.

The GDC figures revealed that 1502 applicants were waiting to apply for Parts1 or 2 in April 2022,    compared to a total of 1112  in April 2021. This represents a 35% increase in the waiting list for the exam. As a result up to 700 applicants may miss out on the time limit to complete Parts 1 and  2 due to the delays.

Yvonne Shaw, Deputy Dental Director and Underwriting Policy Lead at Dental Protection said: “This exam backlog comes at the worst possible time, when we are seeing public dissatisfaction due to the huge NHS and private treatment backlog, and reports of thousands of dentists quitting the NHS. Now more than ever the process by which overseas graduates are being assessed in order to register and practise in the UK, must be fair and efficient.”

“In addition, the longer it takes dentists who qualified overseas to complete the ORE, the longer they could be away from clinical practice. This risks deskilling which, considering the high-pressure workforce they will be joining, should be avoided. Time away from practice may also make passing the ORE even more challenging.”

“Whilst it is encouraging that the DHSC is working with the GDC on amending legislation to enable greater flexibility in alternative routes to registration for overseas graduates, the same momentum must be applied to address the rapidly increasing ORE backlog.”

The irony will not be lost on regular readers of GDPUK, that at the same time that the GDC has been effectively blocking overseas applicants from examinations to assess their competence to treat the public, it has been propping open the door to registration as a therapist, without any examination.

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