‘Fill the Gap’ Campaign

Association of Dental Groups calls for Government to ‘fill’ the dental workforce shortage gap

Read our latest ‘Fill the Gap’ policy paper here

NHS dentistry faces the biggest crisis of its 75 year history. Many areas of the country have become ‘dental deserts’, where there is a below average level of dental provision and no practices are taking on new patients. In 2022 alone, 90% of surgeries were not accepting new adult patients, with 80% also not able to see children as new patients.

Without access to dental services, people will go untreated for dental issues, including tooth decay and gum disease which can lead to pain, discomfort and more serious health complications. Moreover, oral health has a significant impact on  a person’s quality of life – affecting their ability to smile, speak, eat and impacting their overall confidence.

One of the leading causes of the dental crisis is the lack of NHS dentists. In the year to March 2021, England lost a record 951 NHS dentists and, across the UK, there are now more than 5,500 dental vacancies.

As dental training takes almost a decade to complete, it is vital that steps are taken in the immediate term to ‘Fill the Gap’ in the dental workforce. For this reason, ADG is calling on the government to increase the recruitment of overseas dentist to address immediate shortages in the dental workforce.

Our research shows that a net increase of just 1,000 dentists could deliver access to NHS primary dental care for up to 750,000 people. This will alleviate the pressure on the NHS and ensure that everyone in the UK has access to quality dental care.

In order to practice dentistry in the UK, international dental practitioners must pass the UK overseas registration exam (ORE) to register with the General Dental Council (GDC), the regulator for dental professionals. However, the ORE is plagued with inefficiencies and lengthy delays – in the words of the GDC, it is a “flawed system made worse by the pandemic”.

Highly qualified overseas dentists are stuck in a backlog of applicants waiting to take the exam, with demand far outstripping supply for test places. New rules are urgently needed to increase capacity, put on additional places and help to clear the backlog to increase recruitment of high-quality dentists in the UK.

Below, we have outlined five ways to alleviate the crisis in NHS dentistry. These reforms can be realised through government influence, encouraging GDC to implement the necessary changes.

Here are five ways to save NHS dentistry

  1. Increase the frequency of part 1 and part 2 of the ORE

Part 1 of the exam currently takes place twice a year and part two takes place four times a year. By  scheduling both exams more frequently, GDC can reduce the backlog of applicants whilst running the procurement process to add additional providers to the list of those who can administer the exam.

  1. Deliver part 1 of the ORE online or in British Council offices overseas

Secure online examination rooms could be created to allow candidates to take the exam remotely. Alternatively, British Council offices overseas could be used as examination centres,  as already happens for the Performance and Linguistic Assessment Board – the equivalent exam used for General Medical Council registration.

  1. Improve the processing time for new applicants wanting to take the ORE

Candidates are routinely waiting in excess of eight months for the GDC to process their application for permission to sit the ORE – before they have started trying to secure a place in the exam. GDC must act to stop the current trend of increased processing times for new applicants, which has risen 59% over the last two years.

  1. Prioritise candidates who will work in the NHS and will most likely pass the ORE

Candidates who already have job offer in a UK dental practice should be given priority access to the ORE. GDC should also consider prioritising applicants who can show they have undertaken a preparatory course and are therefore more likely to pass the exam. This will minimise the number of people who fail the course and ensure that candidates understand the requirements of the exam to prepare properly.

  1. Bring forward planned reforms to recognise overseas diplomas

Through the Section 60 Order, the government has provided GDC with powers to approve overseas diplomas as equivalent to the standards examined by the ORE, yet GDC does not expect to begin this process for another two years. By bringing forward these reforms, GDC could allow several dental schools – including the 14 which, prior to 2001, were already permitted to offer this qualification – to begin offering diplomas this year, taking significant pressure of the ORE as the only means of having their qualifications recognised.

For further information on ADG’s Fill the Gap campaign, please contact admin@theadg.co.uk.

You can access our latest policy paper on Fill the Gap, here.

About the ADG

The Association of Dental Groups (ADG) is a trade association for large dental providers in the UK. Our members include 25 of the largest groups of dental practices in the country, representing approximately 100,000 clinicians delivering NHS and private dentistry to more than 100 million patient every year.

ADG works for its members and seeks to improve quality and access to dentistry for patients by influencing the standards and shaping the policy that impact Dental Groups. Our aim is to facilitate the provision of patient centred, high quality and consistent dental care.