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Proportionate health and social care worker regulation to protect the public

16th February 2011

The vast majority of those who work in health and social care are committed individuals with a strong sense of professionalism who aspire to deliver the highest standards.  However, where there is poor practice or behaviour that presents a risk to the public, it is vital that swift action is taken, whether by employers, or by national regulatory bodies.

The system of professional regulation ensures high standards of practice and reassures the public that their health and social care needs are provided by qualified, properly vetted professionals.

However, the regulatory system is becoming increasingly complex and expensive and requires continual Government intervention to keep it up to date. The Government must move to a proportionate and effective system that imposes the least possible costs and complexity, while maintaining safety and confidence for patients, service users, carers and the wider public.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley presented ‘Enabling Excellence’ to Parliament this morning. He said:

“Regulation of healthcare workers and social workers makes an important contribution to safeguarding the public, including vulnerable adults and children. But we need an approach to professional regulation that is proportionate and effective.

“The changes we are progressing through the Health and Social Care Bill will give greater independence to those who work in healthcare across the UK and social care in England, to their employers and to the professional regulatory bodies. This will be balanced by more effective accountability in how they exercise that freedom.”

‘Enabling Excellence’ sets out proposals:

  • to devolve power to the regulators, while enhancing accountability and sustaining effective national safeguards  where necessary;
  • to constrain the growth and costs of the regulatory system at a time when health and social work professionals are facing pay constraints;
  • for a system of assured voluntary registration as a more proportionate approach to ensuring high standards in the workforce; and
  • to simplify the regulatory structure.

At the moment, most processes - such as registration, investigation and complaints - that regulators need to have are set out in ‘rules’. Every time the rules need to be updated, the Government has to get involved. In most cases, that is an unnecessary use of Government time. Devolving powers to the regulators will give them greater freedom to define their own processes without approval from the Privy Council or Department of Health.

Voluntary assured registration is intended to improve standards and drive up the quality of care without imposing the costs of mandatory regulation. The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) will set the standards for registers and accredit organisations meeting its standards. That way, the public and employers would be able to easily identify whether a worker belongs to a register that sets robust standards for those registered. We intend to incentivise employers to use workers on voluntary registers. For example, this could be a factor taken into account in the Care Quality Commission's proposals for an excellence scheme which it will be consulting on.

The abolition of the General Social Care Council forms part of our wider programme of social care reform which will deliver a more independent model of regulation and strengthen the social work profession. The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence will also become more independent and self-funding. They will review the efficiency of all regulators, with a view to reducing the overall costs of regulation.

The Health Secretary also announced to Parliament today that herbal medicine practitioners will be regulated from April 2012. The four UK health departments have agreed that the Health Professions Council (HPC) should hold a statutory register of practitioners who supply unlicensed herbal medicines to people to enable the supply of herbal medicines to continue after 30 April 2011. This will ensure that practitioners have met specified registration standards. Practitioner regulation will be underpinned by medicines legislation which will provide further safeguards to protect public health.

 

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