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What does being an Irish dentist mean in a Brexit Britain?

Blog Author Sarah Doherty

Blog Date 24/01/2018

​I have always felt very at home in England, from the day I moved from my home town in the west of Ireland to the bustling city of Manchester at the age of eighteen. 

I was the textbook definition of a 'home bird', and was as surprised and overjoyed as anyone when I was accepted to study dentistry at the University of Manchester.

I was one of the very fortunate later generation that was unscathed by the Troubles, I was just a little too young to remember the Good Friday agreement or understand its significance.

Equally, my English friends were not directly affected and remained mostly unaware of much of the history or basic geography of Ireland. 

This always struck me as a stark contrast to the experiences of my parents who had moved from Belfast to London in the 1980s and felt the grief and shame of being tarred with the same brush as terrorists, due to sharing an accent. 

I felt welcomed in England, accepted and made many wonderful friends. I didn't mind continually explaining that yes; I was from somewhere other than Belfast or Dublin, and that yes, we do use the Euro!

Since the term Brexit was introduced to the world I am now questioned regularly on the 'whole border thing', by friends, colleagues, and even patients, sometimes.

It made me consider how Brexit might affect me, or how it could affect other EU nationals working as dentists in the U.K.


A hike in tuition fees?

I was an EU student and so I qualified for "home fees" as a result. In contrast, an international student pays £40,000 per year for the clinical years of dentistry, and about £22,000 annually, for the preclinical years. 

I was eligible for a loan to cover the £3,450 per year for only four years, as the NHS bursary covered me for the fifth year onwards. 

Those like me, who were to date considered EU students, could in future count as international, depending on what kind of agreements are made by the government in the coming years. 

British universities and dental schools would be within their rights to charge what they see fit for this new bracket of prospective students. 

But if they do, I think this will cut down on the number of EU students coming to study in the UK. Is this something that we want to happen?

I know that if I had been given the choice of no tuition fees if I attended a University in the Republic of Ireland, or paying £186,000 to go to Manchester (international fees for a five-year dental degree plus a foundation year) it would have been a quick decision. 

However, I can understand that international students are an increasingly important source of funding for universities. 


Control over who works in the NHS: vocational training

With Brexit, it feels that fewer EU nationals working in the UK, is something that British people have expressed a desire for. 

Some people see Brexit as an opportunity to gain more control over which dentists are accepted to practise dentistry in the UK. I understand the desire to have more control over the quality of dentistry being practised by those who have not qualified in a UK system – that makes sense.

I'm considered a 'home grown' UK graduate and now I must complete a year of vocational training before I can work in the NHS as an associate. 

But If I had qualified in a University in any country with membership of the EEA, I could move here the day after qualifying and (as long I was on the GDC register) and apply for a full-time NHS job. 

Many are concerned that taking on inexperienced dentists from abroad, who are unfamiliar with the NHS system, can have a negative impact on the quality of work provided.

However, I also see how dependent the NHS is on the same EU and overseas nationals  that many are keen to reduce. 

Twenty-eight per cent of dentists on the GDC register have qualified outside the UK – and 17 per cent have qualified in the European Economic Area - see the GDCs latest report (2016).

The EEA is a different kettle of fish, but essentially it is the EU plus Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. In very rough terms, leaving the EU means also leaving the EEA. 


What will happen to the NHS?

It seems to me a sad irony that one of the major reasons many pro-Brexit voters chose to leave was the often-discussed promise of more funding for the NHS (remember that bus?), which now appears to have been an empty promise.

And already, thousands of non-UK NHS staff are leaving already, concerned about their future, and being able to continue to work here legally. (O'Carroll and Campbell, 2017).

Recently, the government and European Parliament have reassured us that EU nationalsalready resident in the UK, and UK nationals' resident in EU countries will be able to maintain their current rights. 

But I sense that many feel there is a quite a difference in 'having the right to stay' and truly feeling welcome to stay. 

That being said, I am the third generation in my family to come from Ireland to work for the NHS. I think it is reasonable to say it has been a fairly common practice among Irish doctors and dentists for a long time. 

But I wonder whether the coming years, and the possible change in freedom of migration may change that?

Sarah Doherty, young dentist


Get your voice heard!

The BDA's Young Dentists Committee is offering you a chance to discuss your views and share your experience. If you'd like to write an article for our next e-newsletter, please email us.

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