Dental Elite’s Luke Moore: Weathering the Brexit storm
Over the past few years, Brexit has been likened to a tumultuous storm, the effects of which on the dental profession are difficult to predict. Now that the post-Brexit transition period has officially ended, EU legislative arrangements for the movement of goods, services and people no longer apply to the UK.
The future of UK dentistry remains far from certain given that there are numerous variables at play besides the COVID-19 crisis. So, where does this leave the profession?
We won’t know the full cost of the pandemic to the UK economy until the crisis eventually subsides, but it is estimated that by the end of this financial year the total sum borrowed by the government amounted to £394 billion – the highest figure ever seen outside wartime.
All of this will come at a price. Many economists believe that if the government is to minimise borrowing after the pandemic it will have to cut spending, raise taxes, or, most probably, both. Should taxes increase – not to mention jobs lost owing to the end of the furlough scheme and other financial support packages – people are likely to have lower incomes.
Brexit and higher taxes may discourage spending on essential services such as dentistry, yet some optimists argue that lifestyle restrictions and enforced isolation during the pandemic has motivated patients to take greater control of their oral health. Many practices have reported an increase in patients seeking cosmetic and restorative dental treatments, including orthodontics.
It is believed that the desire to return to normalcy will spur more investment in oral health and a more attractive smile. If so, UK dentistry may be in a more precarious position given the on-going issues surrounding the recruitment of dental professionals trained in the EU.
Brexit should not adversely affect the estimated 16–17% of UK dentists who are currently registered with the GDC on the basis of an EU/EEA degree. However, the GDC will only recognise dental qualifications obtained in EU countries for up to two years while it considers its next approach. The process for recognising the qualifications of EU citizens coming to work in the UK after 2022 is currently unclear.
EU citizens who wish to work here now require a visa compliant with the new points-based immigration system, which, although they are likely to be easily met by most dentists, but it is important to be aware that the process could mean more red tape, delays and costs for all involved. These immigration arrangements – combined with a lower exchange rate for the pound sterling – may dissuade EU dental professionals from joining the UK workforce.
Dental practices can ease recruitment pressures through greater use of skill mix and improved delegation of tasks amongst staff members. Offering more flexible working hours and ensuring the appointment diary is as organised as possible can also help maximise surgery time, and practices can take advantage of remote technologies and social media platforms to better educate patients about the importance of oral hygiene.
Brexit could also affect the import and export of dental equipment, materials and medicines. Reaching a deal on Brexit has meant that there are no tariffs on goods trafficked between the UK and EU, but short-term issues with supply could trigger price increases as companies transition to new arrangements, made more challenging by the pandemic.
Departure from the EU means that all medical devices must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they can be placed on the UK market. Manufacturers not established within the UK are unable to do this unless they appoint a UK Responsible Person to register and act on their behalf.
This might make sourcing dental equipment more difficult, resulting in a potential rise in costs that could be passed down from manufacturer to customer. Nevertheless, many dental professionals will be encouraged by the fact that prices for goods remain stable overall, with stock levels for most dental products generally considered appropriate at the time of writing.