In Northern Ireland, if you are a dentist from outside the European Union, you cannot work as a Health Service contractor until you have been added to the Strategic Planning and Performance Group's (SPPG) dental list. Once you are on the dental list, you will work as a Health Service contractor, otherwise known as a principal. A principal can be a practice owner or an associate dentist.
You must apply to the Northern Ireland Medical & Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA) for a Dental Foundation Training Number to be eligible to apply to join the dental list. You will need to work as an employed assistant, gaining the necessary experience until you are successful in getting a Dental Foundation Training Number on the grounds of equivalence and have joined the dental list as a Health Service contractor.
The practice you work with will help you to gain the experience and knowledge equivalent to twelve months of experience working full-time in a Dental Foundation training programme. During this time, you will prepare a portfolio of documents to submit to NIMDTA.
Working as an assistant
General Dental Service regulations clearly state that an assistant is a dentist working under an employment contract. The principal whose Dental Services number you are working under is responsible for the treatment that you provide to patients.
The principal has control over the work you provide, however like a principal, you may also be subject to any General Dental Council Fitness to Practice action. If the principal is absent from the Practice for more than two months, you cannot work at the practice unless it is with the SPPG's consent.
When you are working as an assistant you may be entitled to join the Health Service superannuation scheme. Contributions to the scheme are based on your net pensionable earnings. If you would like to be part of the scheme, you must ensure that you are appropriately registered with the Northern Ireland Pensions Agency.
Types of contracts
Some practice owners will choose to give you a self-employed Associate Agreement while you are working to gain equivalent experience. It is important to note that simply having a self-employed contract does not make you self-employed. Our self-employed Associate Agreement is only suitable for a self-employed associate who is a Health Service principal, and is not for an employed assistant, who has no Health Service contract.
It is important to note that simply having a self-employed contract does not make you self-employed."
An Associate Agreement also does not meet the requirements of a dentist working as an employee/assistant in Northern Ireland as it does not contain the necessary information which is required by law in an employment contract. Our employing staff and employee pay and rewards advice sheets explain what employment contracts must contain and offer further information.
Associate Agreements offer a more balanced relationship and will give you more control and freedom in the work you provide. The nature of the employment relationship is that the employer has most of the control and is obliged to offer work to the employee. The employee is obliged to come to work and in turn the employer must pay the employee in accordance with regulations such as national minimum wage, holiday pay, and sick pay.
You can use our model employment contract along with a suitable covering letter to reflect the fact that an assistant must work as an employee until joining the dental list. The employment contract can be on a fixed-term basis until you become a Health Service contractor, at which point the employment may be terminated before moving onto a self-employed associate agreement.
Treating private practice patients
You do not require a Dental Foundation Training Number to treat patients on a private basis, however most dental practices will offer treatment both under the Health Service and on a private basis. This means that there may be limited opportunity for you to work in a setting where you are providing treatments on a solely private arrangement.
If you have no intention of treating any patients under the Health Service, you could consider working as a self-employed associate. If you choose this route, you may need to be engaged on a self-employed associate worker basis. In a contract as a worker, you will have some employment rights, such as the right to paid holidays but will not be entitled to sick pay, holiday pay, or to join the Health Service pension scheme.
We are unable to offer immigration advice to dentists working under any sponsorship or work visa permit, but we do advise you to carefully check and consider any conditions that may be applied to working in the UK. You should ensure that the terms of your contract are not in breach of any UK working conditions such as the way and amount of remuneration you receive from the practice may have to be implemented in a certain way, or the hours you work may have a set minimum or maximum. You should seek advice from an immigration solicitor if you are unsure.
Our advice sheet on gaining a Dental Foundation Training Number on the grounds of equivalence covers the issues outlined above in full. We also offer CPD on understanding Associate agreements which provides education and understanding of the differences between worker and non-worker contracts. Our advice page on Associates' employment status also gives an overview. We provide a contract review service to members, if you would like to use this you can email your contract to us and it will be allocated to an adviser for review.