Renata Geisa has been a dentist for over thirty years, specialising in orthodontics and implantodontics. She first qualified in Brazil, before moving to Italy for her then-husband’s job. She gained Italian citizenship and a dentist’s licence, before the family moved again, to London. But a quirk of the system post-Brexit means that Dr Geisa’s Italian qualification is no longer recognised in the UK.
Her dream, she says, is to have her own mobile dental practice, working with the NHS to help “those for whom real treatment is not available”. But, for now, this remains only a dream — if she can’t obtain a licence, Dr Geisa is seriously considering a move to Ireland, despite the fact that it would separate her from her son, who is still studying for a PhD in Engineering at Cambridge University.
End of preferential treatment for EU dentists
Dr Geisa’s story is not unique. In practice, these rules apply to many dentists who qualified outside the UK. While the UK remained in the EU, freedom of movement rules meant that EU dentists’ qualifications were automatically recognised, even if the original qualification was obtained outside the EU and ratified by an EU member state. This was in contrast to people from “third countries”. Post-Brexit, this preferential treatment no longer applies, leaving dentists whose qualifications do not fit the new requirements in limbo.
Dr Geisa’s certificate was gained through the Ministry of Health. However, the General Dental Council’s (GDC) appendix to the European Directive requires that EU citizens have a qualification from an EU university. This appendix was not agreed or signed with the European Directive Law for General Assessments for overseas qualification.
What are the GDC rules?
The GDC website states: ‘The UK Government has enacted legislation which enables the GDC to continue recognising EEA-qualified dentists under a near-automatic system for up to two years from 1 January 2021.’
Applicants whose qualifications are listed on the V.3. Annex V of Directive 2005/36/EC will, until 31 December 2022 at least, be registered through a ‘near-automatic’ process. However, for most EU countries, there is a requirement that these qualifications were issued by a university.
The GDC has been contacted for comment on Dr Geisa’s case but has so far not replied.
EU dentists in UK face uncertain future
According to the British Dental Association (BDA), around ‘16-17 percent of the UK dentist workforce is registered on the basis of an EU/EEA degree’.
‘The process for recognising the qualifications of EU citizens coming to work in the UK after 2022 is ‘unclear at the moment’. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed by the UK and EU includes provisions for further discussion and agreement on recognition procedures, but it remains to be seen whether either side will take up this opportunity. According to the BDA, the UK Government ‘envisages mutual recognition agreements between countries, but nothing is decided yet’.
The BDA also acknowledges that ‘The changes, and a lower exchange rate for Pound Sterling, may also make the UK a less attractive place to work for dentists in the future and have an impact on the dentist workforce in the UK.’
No automatic recognition for UK dentists in Europe
Brexit also means that UK dentists face greater barriers to practising in Europe. Recognition of UK dentists’ qualifications in EU countries now depends on arrangements in a given country.
The BDA comments: ‘We await clarity on how European universities will approach applications from UK students, but we assume they will be subject to the same requirements as other third-country nationals. Also, as per above, they are likely to be subject to new recognition procedures after 2022. We would therefore advise anyone considering studying dentistry in an EU country to ensure they ask for detailed advice from universities, national regulators and professional associations.’
Independent patient watchdog Healthwatch has already warned of a national dentistry crisis, as the profession is hit by a pandemic-induced backlog, a struggle to recruit, and a wave of departures of EU citizens. Neil Carmichael, the chair of the Association of Dental Groups, has called for an extension of mutual recognition — for a struggling dental sector, and those, like Dr Geisa, who are ready and willing to work, it seems this step can’t come soon enough.