NHS dentists: Exam could be scrapped for overseas applicants

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The government is considering plans to allow dentists from abroad to work without taking an exam to check their education and skills.

The proposal, which is subject to a three-month consultation, aims to address the severe shortage of NHS dentists.

It is hoped a quicker process would attract more dentists.

The British Dental Association has accused the government of avoiding the issues "forcing" dentists to quit.

The proposal forms part of the government's £200 million NHS Dental Recovery Plan for England, announced earlier this month.

Under the plan, dentists could also be paid more for NHS work, while so-called "dental vans" would be rolled out to areas with low coverage, alongside an advice programme for new parents.

There is also a proposal of £20,000 bonuses for dentists working in under-served communities, as part of an effort to increase appointment capacity by 2.5 million next year.

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At present, overseas dentists are required to pass an exam before they can start work in the UK - the new idea would see the General Dental Council (GDC) granted powers to provisionally register them without a test.

Stefan Czerniawski, executive director of strategy at the GDC said: "We need to move at pace, but we need to take the time to get this right - and we will work with stakeholders across the dental sector and four nations to do so."

But Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association (BDA), said the problems facing NHS dentists would not be solved by the proposals.

"A broken contract is forcing dentists out of the NHS with every day it remains in force," he said.

"Overseas dentists are no more likely to stick with a failed system than their UK colleagues. Ministers need to stop trying to fill a leaky bucket, and actually fix it."

While the plans were in the government's dental recovery plan for England, regulation and registration is UK wide.

'Highest standards'

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), about 30% of all dentists on the GDC register qualified outside the UK. In 2022, some 46% per cent of new additions trained overseas.

Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom said: "Our dental recovery plan will create millions more dental appointments, improve access for patients and ease pressure on the sector.

"Our hardworking dentists deserve our gratitude and this is the start of our plan to put the sector on a sustainable footing.

"Strengthening the workforce is key to our ambitions and our proposals would abolish red tape that currently prevents fully qualified overseas dentists from working in this country, while ensuring the highest standards of care and patient safety.

"We have a long-term plan to make access to NHS dental care faster, simpler and fairer for all, and I want to make sure we hear views from across the sector as we drive this forward."