Ministers urge the GDC to ‘fill the gap’ in UK’s dental workforce

05 February 2024

Thirty cross-party MPs and peers showed their support at an event in Parliament in February 2024, hosted by the Association of Dental Groups (ADG), to discuss how the UK can ‘fill the gap’ in its dental workforce.

There are more than 5,500 dental vacancies in the UK and the ADG says we have per capita among the lowest number of dentists in Europe, with only Bulgaria and Poland having fewer dentists per 1,000 people.

In 2022, 90 per cent of surgeries were not accepting new adult patients and 80 per cent were not accepting new child patients.

ADG is campaigning for a short-term intervention to complement the NHS’s long-term plan to increase UK training of dentists, which will only see a boost to the workforce by the 2030s.

Various MPs and peers in attendance at the Fill the Gap event co-signed a letter which addresses this immediate need by urging the General Dental Council to increase the capacity of the overseas registration exam (ORE).

ADG believes that just 1,000 extra dentists would deliver 750,000 additional appointments.

The group of MPs and peers have asked GDC to:

  • Increase the frequency of part 1 and part 2 of the ORE
  • Deliver part 1 of the ORE online or in British Council offices overseas
  • Improve the processing time for new applicants wanting to take the ORE
  • Prioritise candidates who will work in the NHS and will most likely pass the ORE
  • Bring forward planned reforms to recognise overseas diplomats

Neil Carmichael, the chair of ADG, said, “We are proud to come together with such a strong cohort of MPs and Peers to demand a better future for NHS dentistry.

“UK dentistry is in a perilous state, caused, in large part, by a depleted workforce. 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.

“We are urging GDC to stop dragging its feet and reform the ORE to increase the recruitment of high-quality dentists in the UK and bring dental services from the brink.”

Helen Morgan, MP for North Shropshire, said, “It was really useful to attend the Association of Dental Groups event, where we discussed how the UK can fill the gap in its dental workforce.

“Here in Shropshire, you hear awful stories about the difficulties people face through a lack of access to care, with some even taking to DIY dentistry. The underlying problem is recruitment, which we need the Government to take real action on or risk losing even more local dental services.

“I’m joining 30 other MPs and peers in urging the General Dental Council to reform the exam that dentists must pass in order to practice in the UK, to boost recruitment and deliver the services people need.”

A GDC spokesperson said, “We agree with the ADG that improvements are needed in the way the ORE works – and we are making them.

“As they well know, the legislative changes last year are still not fully in effect, but despite that we have already significantly increased the capacity of both parts of the ORE. The GDC has tripled the capacity of three Part One sittings from August 2023 (creating a total of 1,800 places over the three sittings) and organised an additional sitting for Part Two in 2024 (creating an additional 144 places). We will soon be launching the procurement process for a new provider for Part Two which will give us greater flexibility to match the number of places available to the number of candidates.

“But we also want to look beyond the ORE, at other ways which provide internationally qualified dental professionals with routes to registration in the UK – without compromising on the standards which need to be reached. We look to the government to make the further legislative changes which would make that possible. We are keen to work with others to make that a reality, including with the government on any further legislative changes which may be necessary.”