As the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service enters its third week of existence, we reflect on what changes this launch has brought about in real terms and what this means in the wider context of the healthcare regulators.

Background

On 28 April 2017, the Health and Care Practitioners Council (HCPC) launched a brand new Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS).

The HCPC regulates a very broad range of healthcare practitioners, including:

  • Arts therapists
  • Biomedical scientists
  • Chiropodists and podiatrists
  • Clinical scientists
  • Dietitians
  • Hearing aid dispensers
  • Occupational therapists
  • Operating department practitioners
  • Orthoptists
  • Paramedics
  • Practitioner psychologists
  • Prosthetists/orthotists
  • Psychotherapists
  • Radiographers
  • Social workers (in England)
  • Speech and language therapists

What’s new?

Three principal changes are brought about by this launch:

  1. A new Tribunal Centre in Kennington, South London
  2. The formation of a Tribunal Advisory Committee, a non-statutory committee of the HCPC. Its main role is to advise the Council on the recruitment, training and assessment of Tribunal members, Tribunal chairs and legal assessors. It will also be responsible for issuing guidance to the Tribunal on practice and procedure
  3. A separate HCPTS website containing all information on upcoming hearings, decisions from recent hearings, legislation, general information and guidance

Why has this come about?

The aim of this change is to separate the investigation and adjudication arms of the regulator and follow the universal principle of open justice by that decisions ought to be (and be seen to be) reached independently of those bringing and defending allegations.

Is it really that different?

In real terms there is very little practical change. The HCPC was one of the first regulators to end the practice of Council members sitting on Practice Committees, meaning that there is already a degree of functional separation. The change is largely administrative and symbolic in terms of the separation of responsibility for investigation and adjudication.

In addition, the HCPTS is still not organisationally separate from the HCPC (tribunal service staff are employed by HCPC).

Harmonisation

It follows the example set by the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2012 and feeds into the wider debate about whether future mergers of healthcare regulators would be appropriate. This was mooted by the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in 2011 by way of a Command Paper citing the potential advantage of ‘consolidating the sector into a more cost-effective configuration’. It was specifically suggested that a merger between the GMC and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) might have support.

These plans fell by the wayside until the Department of Health recently announced a public consultation into improving the efficiency, consistency and cost of healthcare regulators. Options could include merging all nine statutory regulators into one super regulator or forming a number of smaller merged regulators.

How can we help?

Our healthcare regulatory department provides advice to the full spectrum of healthcare professionals faced with fitness to practise proceedings before their regulator.