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Provisional registration plans: Ministers try to fill leaky bucket

Once again government is failing to address the root causes of the crisis in NHS dentistry, with plans to fast-track in overseas dentists through a new system of provisional registration.

The recent ‘Recovery Plan’ for NHS dentistry was “unworthy of the title” given its failure to break with the discredited contract fuelling the exodus from the NHS workforce. The Government has ruled out breaking with the system of targets dubbed ‘unfit for purpose’ by both the Health and Social Care Committee and the Times Health Commission.

There are currently a record number of dentists registered to practise with the General Dental Council, but the number of dentists undertaking NHS activity in England has fallen to levels not seen since 2016/17. There is no evidence that overseas dentists are any more willing to maintain a long-term commitment to the failed system of tick boxes and targets than their UK counterparts. 

Official data shows about 30% of all dentists on the GDC register qualified outside the UK. In 2022, some 46% of new additions trained overseas. These are not insignificant numbers, and there are also clear issues with patient safety, given the consistently high failure rates for the ORE.

The consultation that has just opened to change legislation to introduce provisional registration with supervisory arrangements in practices will run to mid-May. Thereafter, depending on whether the legislation is introduced as proposed (and on relevant timelines), the GDC will have to consult on its own plans for implementing the new powers. No detail for these arrangements are currently known. What is known is that provisional legislation would be time-limited to allow dentists to work while also working towards the requirements for full registration.

“A broken contract is forcing dentists out of the NHS with every day it remains in force,” said our Chair Eddie Crouch.

“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.”

We do not recognise any of the claims made by government on the ‘millions’ of new appointments created by the Recovery Plan. The Department of Health has still not published any of the modelling underpinning these numbers. There are no measures in the plan that increase capacity in the struggling service, or that are likely to bring dentists back to the NHS.

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