Conservative MPs have called on the Government to encourage more dentists from overseas to work in the NHS.
Tory MP Bob Seely called in the House of Commons for the Government to “get dentists into this country in the next year or two to help with the immediate crisis in the lack of NHS dentists”.
Giles Watling, Conservative MP for Clacton, said the UK should use its “Brexit freedom to open the nation to the dentists of the world we have so long spurned”.
Health Minister Maria Caulfield said the Government is exploring changes that would “really open up dentistry to those who are trained overseas”.
Mr Seely, the MP for the Isle of Wight, said: “It is almost impossible on the island now to find an NHS dentist if you do not already have one.”
He said his constituency and other areas are “significantly suffering from a lack of NHS dentists”.
Mr Seely said constituents are “struggling” with a lack of access to NHS dentists, and warned “the immediate consequences of this is not only sore teeth and toothache, but actually dangerous”, citing concerns about serious diseases going undiagnosed, including oral cancers.
He called for the Government to grant the General Dental Council (GDC) greater discretion over the recognition of overseas dental qualifications; “develop a 12-month UK adaptation course for experienced, qualified overseas dentists to gain GDC recognition”; and maintain the mutual recognition of qualifications for dentistry with European Economic Area countries indefinitely and extend that to overseas territories “potentially as part of future free trade agreements”.
Mr Seely also called on the Government “to fund a catch-up program of overseas registration exams to make up for missed opportunities during the pandemic with a view to immediately recruiting 1,000 additional dentists within 12 months”.
He added: “And that could specifically be targeted at the Indian subcontinent, which according to all the dentists and dental experts I speak to… produce very high standards of dentists, and secondly overproduce the number of dentists that they need.”
Also on Monday, the British Dental Association called on the Government and the dental regulator to deliver “rapid change” to laws governing tests for dentists overseas.
Responding to MPs in the Commons, Ms Caulfield said the Government is exploring changes that would “really open up dentistry to those who are trained overseas”.
The minister conceded “there absolutely” is an issue with dentistry, adding “it’s been significantly affected by the pandemic”.
She outlined short-term problems caused by the pandemic, as well as longer-term problems, and offered assurances that the Government is working to address both issues.
Ms Caulfield said the Government is “keen to expand dental training” but conceded establishing new dental schools “would not necessarily see changes” for “about four or five years”.
She said: “The Government also recognizes… the registration process for some internationally qualified dentists can be bureaucratic and inefficient.
“The ORE (Overseas Registration Exam), which has to be taken currently, was suspended throughout Covid, and the first exams took place last week.
“So we do now have some overseas dentists who are starting to take their exams and sessions are booked in for the rest of the year, which will roughly cover about 700 overseas dentists. Now they may not all pass the exam, but at least they are starting to get through the system.
“And the department is currently working with the GDC on legislative proposals which will allow greater flexibility to expand on the registration options open to international dentistry applicants, because… we do have some experienced, qualified dentists who just can’t practice in this country at the moment and I’m pleased to say that the consultation on these changes has launched today with the GDC, and subject to the results of this consultation we hope to bring forward these changes later this year.
“But this will really open up dentistry to those who are trained overseas.”
She also said the Government announced just a few days ago a “one-off additional £50 million” for NHS dental services.
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