With Brexit negotiations well underway, what does this mean for dental practices in the UK? Leaving the EU is bound to have dramatic impacts, especially for NHS recruitment.
One of the most obvious impacts that both NHS and dental organisations will be monitoring is the effect of Brexit on the movement of dentist and dental practitioners across borders, and the transferability of dental qualifications between member states of the EU and the UK. Currently, in the EU there is a system of automatic recognition of professional qualifications for seven sectoral professions, including dentists, between EU member states. The EU has published a list of qualifications that are automatically recognised across member states. If a dentist's qualification does not meet the criteria for automatic recognition and is not listed, it may still be recognised in other EU countries under the general system for recognition of qualifications, although if the authorities think the training for the qualification differs significantly from the training required in that country, dentists may have to sit an aptitude test or complete an adaptation period under the general system for recognition of qualifications.
Uncertainty over whether this recognition will remain after Brexit understandably can create a huge element of instability as to how the NHS and dental practices will hire their future workforce and whether there will enough candidates to fill positions after March 2019.
In February 2018 the British Dental Association found that 68% of NHS practices struggle to fill dental vacancies during the recruitment stage, meaning that there is already a lack of professionals within the sector. However, the Vice Chair of the British Dental Association, Eddie Crouch, believes that the current recruitment crisis cannot be blamed on Brexit alone and that there are other reason behind the lack of dental professionals being recruited into UK dental practices, stating that it is down to “the constant treadmill of targets and pay cuts” and “low morale”. However, with Brexit fast approaching, dental organisations are mindful that any new migration policies and qualification recognition agreements could have important repercussions in how organisations recruit healthcare professionals and students.
A spokesperson for the British Dental Association said: “Practices are experiencing increasing difficulties in recruiting dentists. That is particularly the case outside of the larger urban areas. We need to ensure that our requirement for dentists is matched by the available supply. That supply should come principally from our own dental schools, but in the shorter term, migration policy now and post-Brexit also needs to ensure appropriate availability of dentists.”
Former Dental Director at Dental Protection, Kevin Lewis, has suggested that Brexit will have huge impacts on the workforce: “The difficulty that I see going forward, is that if they [the GDC] haven’t got to accept them [European dentists], somebody is going to have to look at the workforce questions all over again. Without the European dentists coming in, I think the corporates would have struggled to fill the seats in the surgeries to be brutally honest.”
There is currently already a growing concern as to how the NHS will continue to operate financially. According to officials, the aftermath of the EU could leave Britain in a state of financial emergency due to the lack of economic growth and staff shortages. It has already been reported that 58% of currently employed dentists are set to leave their position in the next five years.
Uncertainty in student recruitment too
There are about 135,000 EU students in UK universities and vice-chancellors recently called for "urgent clarification" about the status of EU students who might apply for courses beginning in autumn 2019. So far there is no long-term decision or reciprocal deal on how UK students in the EU, or EU students in the UK, will be treated post-Brexit. If EU students were to be classified as overseas students, their fees would be much higher which could deter them from studying in the UK.
Similarly, academics are also facing undertainty over the funding of universities post-Brexit. EU nationals make up about 17% of the UK's academics - and since the referendum there have been a so-called brain drain warnings from universities. Margaret Gardner, vice-chancellor of Monash University, in Australia, recently told the BBC that Australian universities were already poaching academics from the UK. Similarly, British academics working in EU universities remain undertain of their position.
Whislt everything is still up in the air, it will be interesting - if not nail bitting - to see how the future of dental practices will play out as Brexit negotiations continue.