A step in the right direction for regulatory reform?
For over 10 years, there has been talk of reforming how healthcare professionals are regulated in the UK. In February 2017, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt set the wheels in motion for creating a super regulator. The Consultation Paper on Promoting Professionalism, Reforming Regulation seeks a response from the public, professionals and regulators on the introduction of three to four regulators as opposed to one super regulator. It is yet to be seen how the government intends on dividing up the professions but, undoubtedly, the change will see closure of some of the smaller regulators and a reduction in the number of cases making their way through the fitness to practise conveyor belt.
The current system sees nearly 1.5 million people as members of 32 healthcare professions which are regulated by 9 independent regulators (which are, in turn, overseen by the Professional Standards Agency). This is not to mention the further 35 ‘occupations’ which are covered by 24 recognised voluntary registers.
Each regulator holds its own substantial legislative framework, standards of practise, education and training requirements as well as control of their own register which, in turn, gives rise their own fitness to practise rules and authorities. What we see today is the result of many years of regulatory evolution which has admittedly resulted in a slow, expensive, unnecessarily complicated, overly adversarial and confusing system for all (patients, professionals and employers).
With the likes of the HCPC covering 16 professions (soon to be 15 with the introduction of the Children and Social Work Act 2017), it is understandable why people struggle to know which regulator is responsible for which profession and the processes surrounding it.
A reduction to the number of regulators, with the desired smooth transition, makes perfect sense for the end user. Having acted for and against all 9 of the regulators over the years, I welcome the aim of reducing them down to the proposed 3 or 4 as set out in the consultation, however, the proposed changes will increase the number of consensual disposals and cause a decrease in the number of cases reaching a fitness to practise committee.
Once the ‘dust has settled’, fewer regulators would undoubtedly offer a more consistent and focussed approach to healthcare regulation for the masses. The evolution of the regulators over the years has seen the implementation of a number of different processes which ultimately have the same aim of protecting the public and maintaining public confidence. A united approach to healthcare regulation may start out as a bumpy ride, but eventually, I think it will have the desired effect shine through.
To have your say, click here and complete the questionnaire by 23 January 2018.