Entry on to a GDC Specialist List
Any dentist with full GDC registration can apply to join one or more of the GDC’s 13 Specialist Lists, which would enable them to use the title “Specialist” in their chosen discipline.
The main route of entry to a Specialist List is through completion of a specialist training programme approved by the GDC, which will enable a dentist to apply for the award of a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST) and entry to the relevant Specialist List. However, there are alternative routes available to applicants able to demonstrate that they have met the requirements of the relevant speciality curricula leading to the award of a CCST.
The criteria for entry under each alternative route will differ depending on the Specialist List to which the applicant is seeking admission. There are more routes for entry to the Oral Surgery and Orthodontics Specialist Lists as compared to the routes for entry to the other Specialist Lists.
The legal principles governing applications under alternative routes of entry are largely dictated by European Law and can be complex, especially in the aftermath of Brexit. If you are considering making an application under an alternative route, you may therefore find it useful to obtain legal advice.
Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST)
This is the main route of entry to a Specialist List and is the route which provides an applicant with the most certainty as to whether they have met the relevant criteria.
Applications for approved training programmes must be submitted to the applicant’s regional Postgraduate Dental Dean, who will monitor the applicant throughout their period of training. Applicants should be aware that competition for places on approved training programmes can be fiercely competitive. If an applicant has secured a place and completed their training, they must hold the agreed qualification awarded by one of the Royal Surgical Colleges and fulfil all entry, training and assessment criteria to be eligible for the award of the CCST.
Alternative routes of entry – exempt person status
Typically, if you are considering applying to join a Specialist List under an alternative route, you should at first assess whether you qualify as an “exempt person”. The concept of an exempt person is derived from European Law, namely Directive 2004/38/EC (“the Directive”) which governs the rights of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, and which was implemented in the UK by the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006.
The position regarding exempt status is unclear following the UK’s departure from the European Union on 31 December 2020. It is not possible to currently say definitively whether applying for exempt status is available to Specialist List applicants any longer. This is still being considered. We understand that no decision has been made by the General Dental Council as of now, although they anticipate that a decision will be confirmed within the next four to six weeks.
If this legal avenue remains and an applicant qualifies as an exempt person, it does not mean that they will exempt from the requirements for entry under a particular route. They must still be able to demonstrate that they have met the requirements of the relevant speciality curricula leading to the award of a CCST. However, it may improve their prospects of successfully gaining admission to a Specialist List by widening the otherwise narrow criteria under a particular route or by increasing the number of routes available to them. Many applicants are surprised by the criteria which enables them to claim exempt person status. For example, the nationality of their spouse or other family members may be relevant or an applicant may be able to obtain exempt person status by residing in another EEA State or Switzerland pursuant to the three-month right to reside under the Directive. It is therefore crucial that, if an applicant can qualify as an exempt person, that they make an application on that basis.
In summary, to qualify as an exempt person, an individual must be:
- A national of an EEA State (other than the UK) or Switzerland;
- A national of the UK who is seeking access to, or is pursuing, the profession by virtue of an enforceable EU right; or
- A person who is not a national of an EEA European State or Switzerland but who is, by virtue of an enforceable EU right, entitled to be treated, for the purposes of access to and pursuit of the profession, no less favourably than a national of an EEA State or Switzerland.
This is a complex area of law and its future remains uncertain. The current GDC position suggests that any applications submitted which claim exempt person status in the interim will not be considered until a decision has been reached. Therefore, it would be wise to await the update from the GDC in case the it takes a decision which might allow a Specialist List applicant access to the Specialist List via a different route by claiming Exempt Person status.
Completing the application
There are three application packs which can be downloaded from the GDC website: separate application packs for the Oral Surgery and Orthodontics Specialist Lists and a generic application pack which must be used when an application is made for admission to one of the other Specialist Lists.
Applicants are required to state within their application under which route their application is made. It is worth noting that the GDC can consider an application made under more than one route.
Each application pack contains detailed guidance for applicants and sets out the documents that should be submitted with an application. If you are making an application to join a Specialist List under an alternative route, it is advisable to read the guidance carefully. The routes available in each application pack are derived from European Law and, in relation to the Oral Surgery and Orthodontics Specialist Lists, there are numerous routes between which there are only discrete distinctions.
A route which is available in applications for admission to all Specialist Lists is where the applicant has “knowledge and experience derived from academic and research work”. If an application is made under this route (known as the “assessed route”), the applicant must satisfy the GDC that their knowledge and experience is equivalent to that which they might reasonably be expected to have acquired if they had undertaken the training required for the award of the CCST. This is derived from The European Primary and Specialist Dental Qualifications Regulations 1998 and the GDC (Specialist List) Regulations 2008. The guidance within the application packs lists documents which an applicant may wish to submit in support of an application under this route.
It is important to note that a practitioner cannot be admitted to a Specialist List under this route based solely upon their clinical experience. Unfortunately, many practitioners with lengthy experience practising with a special interest in a specialist area are not able to meet the criteria under this route as their knowledge and experience is not derived from academic and research work. Of course, this does not mean that such practitioners should not submit an application. However, there may be steps that they can take to improve the prospects of their application being successful, for example by arranging supervised clinical practise, or becoming involved in research and teaching. Practitioners considering applying to join a Specialist List may find it useful to obtain legal advice as to the steps that they can take to improve the prospects of their application being successful.
Applicants should also refer closely to the guidance within the relevant application as to the form the application should take, including the requirements regarding translation and certification of documents, and the payment of the application fee.
Where to next?
The Coronavirus pandemic triggered a delay in the assessment and consideration of applications in recent months, although the GDC appears confident that assessments are back up and running again, with some delays remaining as they deal with the backlog.
Whilst the position regarding exempt person status is currently in a state of flux, it may be reassuring to know that Brexit laws have not impacted on the application routes for the Specialist List applications nor the appeal process.
We at Hempsons would be delighted to help any Specialist List applicants navigate their way through this complex area of law and either Sharon Cooney or Hannah Stephenson, or any of our Regulatory and Crime Team, are on hand to assist you.