Dentistry focus: Dental training programmes

There was an alarming development in mid-January when students who were currently studying for 4-year (graduate entry) and 3 year (medical graduate entry) courses leading to a BDS degree or equivalent.

They were advised that their degrees may not satisfy the requirements of the relevant EC Directive on the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (2005/36/EC).

Consequently, on completion of their shortened dental degree courses it may not be possible for them to become registered as dentists by the GDC without the completion of an additional (fifth) year of approved training.
When a previous government was, in the face of an acute access crisis at the time, looking for ways to increase the number of dentists in the UK, one limb of its strategy was to open three new dental schools, each offering four-year graduate entry programmes, thereby bringing forwards the moment when these additional dentists would join the UK workforce and (because of the nature of VT/ Foundation Training) be available to join the NHS workforce.
The Directive dates back to 2005 so everyone has known of the basic five year requirement for some considerable time, and importantly, before the recent graduates and current final year students commenced their dental studies.

But it had until relatively recently been assumed that the years spent in the achievement of the previous degree could provide the ‘missing’ year, even if the degree was not of a related nature.

The GDC, having taken some legal advice – perhaps somewhat belatedly, it might be argued –  now believes that this assumption may be incorrect and although it has committed itself to honouring the recent registration of those who graduated from these courses in 2011, and also the registration expectations of those shortened-course graduates in 2012, this will not necessarily be the case for those currently at the earlier stages of the degree course.
The GDC issued a press statement which reaffirms its current position that the UK’s four-year and three-year dental degree courses are robust and that they produce safe and competent graduates.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is reviewing the Directive and all interested parties are exploring mechanisms to overcome this difficulty.

Given the very real prospect of legal challenges from any students who find that their studies need to be extended, and potentially third party legal actions by the universities themselves against the GDC, the situation will remain fluid and very worrying for some time to come.

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