Has dental nurses’ registration been a success?

Neel Kothari

The introduction of GDC registration for dental nurses was intended to acknowledge their value and increase their professional status – Neel Kothari asks if those aims have been achieved.

Registration with a professional organisation goes far beyond imparting a sense of achievement for the individual. It provides a series of assurances for the public. They essentially must place their trust in the profession to treat them fairly.

Since 2008, all dental nurses have had to register with the General Dental Council (GDC) in a decision that conveyed upon them professional status. Initially, it was thought that nurses would receive better recognition, acknowledgement, improved pay and greater levels of respect. But it isn’t entirely clear if now 16 years on these aims have been achieved.

Jo Russell from Oracle-PBS told Dentistry.co.uk: ‘I was a huge advocate of dental nurses being registered with the GDC. It signified that we had “made it” professionally and was something to be proud of.

‘Maybe we would finally be paid more than the cleaner in the practice? Unfortunately, in most practices, this is still not the case. This is mainly centred around the fact that most nurses are paid the national living wage or just slightly above.’

Who benefits from registration of nurses?

While some may feel they had ‘made it’ professionally, it isn’t entirely clear how registration of nurses benefits the public. They are not primarily responsible for decision making with patients. This makes it tenuous to assume that the public would need additional assurances. Further, the onerous requirements and costs now placed upon them is in part responsible for the current nursing crisis. The additional challenges makes the role less attractive to new recruits.

A quick check of recent GDC fitness to practise cases for nurses highlights a range of sanctions imposed upon nurses, from a bizarrely high number of nurses not completing 10 hours of CPD, to more severe cases of theft, fraud and dishonesty. What is notably missing are concerns raised by members of the public over dental nurses’ conduct. This odd finding begs the question, who precisely benefits from dental nurse registration?

‘The GDC moved the goal posts’

Jo Russell also says: ‘The GDC moved the goal posts with enhanced CPD. This has led to many registrants (not just dental nurses) falling foul of the 10 in two rule (a minimum of 10 hours of CPD over a two-year period). It has also led to certificates being disqualified because the training provider doesn’t understand the onerous GDC requirements.’

Discussing those who have come off the register to have a career break, Jo says: ‘Dental nurses who have had a career break either to have a family or perhaps pursuing a different career have seen waiting times of around six months to re-register. How can this be justified?

Don’t even get me started on missing the payment deadline or more recently banking errors that have seen registrants effectively jobless while trying to re-register. To add insult to injury, the person in question cannot work, even in a supervised capacity, in a dental practice other than in an administrative or decontamination role.’

Jo goes on to further say: ‘To my mind, the registration of dental nurses has not, on the whole, been successful.’

Expectation versus reality

Dental nurse registration had laudable aims, but the reality simply hasn’t lived up to expectation. Nurses deserve respect and acknowledgement for the important role that they play. However it isn’t clear to me that the regulatory requirements imposed by GDC registration provide for this.

Undoubtably, they generate a significant additional income for the GDC, which in turn spends thousands of pounds a day on fitness to practise hearings regulating nurses against a professional standard that they themselves have imposed or on matters that would otherwise be punishable by law.

Essentially, professional regulation underpins public confidence that healthcare professionals provide safe care. In my opinion, it’s not entirely clear if registration of dental nurses has affected public confidence in any way, despite the considerable costs and stresses that have come with it.

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