Regulation in health and social care has seen significant change recently, culminating in the passing of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 in April of this year. Amongst other developments, the Act provides for the creation of an entirely new regulatory body (Social Work England), focused solely on the social work field.
Whilst there are a number of other political hot potatoes dominating the headlines, in the last few days before the general election we take a look at what, if anything, the parties say about their plans for the health and social care regulation sphere.
Having already successfully passed the Children and Social Work Act this year, the Tory manifesto suggests that they wish to go even further.
The Conservatives plan to reform what they describe as “the current outdated system of professional regulation of healthcare professions”. With no further detail given, the scope is large. Does this mean a complete overhaul? It could be as ground-breaking a change as the creation of a “super regulator” or as small as minor process improvement.
What is more concrete however, is the desire to focus on the field of cosmetic intervention. This may not be a surprise to many, given the outcome of the PIP scandal and the call for better regulation that followed. The Tories plan to ensure effective registration and regulation of those performing cosmetic interventions, and they are not the only ones. This is a popular policy, which can also be found below in their previous coalition partner’s manifesto.
As well as plans to extend the scope of the CQC in order to cover health-related services commissioned by local authorities, the Tories also plan to create an independent healthcare safety investigations body within the NHS. Again, no further detail is given as to what this new body may look like. However scope, membership and sanctions and enforcement power are all component parts which have the potential to overlap with existing regulatory functions and therefore possibly cause friction.
Lastly, reference is made to the National Data Guardian (NDG) for Health and Social Care. Working with the Department of Health, the NDG’s aim is to ensure that citizens’ confidential information is safeguarded securely and used properly. The Tory manifesto confirms its plans to put this body on a statutory footing, in order to improve the enforcement of its data security standards. Given the headlines over the years regarding data breaches electronically and otherwise, it is unsurprising that this is a feature of the Tories’ healthcare plans.
The Labour Party has less to say in this arena. However, they too see the benefits in the creation of a new regulatory body. It is suggested that this body, known as NHS Excellence, will regulate on quality, safety and excellence. Again, with no further detail given it remains to be seen whether the creation of a new body will mean the taking away of powers from existing ones.
On the topic of removal, the Party also confirms its wish to repeal the Health and Social Care Act. While their reasoning behind this decision is to halt the process of putting “profits before patients, and make the NHS the preferred provider”, repealing the entirety of the Act may also have consequences for healthcare regulation. Will the Labour Party keep the status quo on the regulation side and just continue to focus on its concerns with privatisation? The abolishment of the Act will give the Party the opportunity to set a new course – it will be interesting to see what course that may be should the result go in their favour on 8 June.
As mentioned above, the Lib Dems similarly pick up on the need to regulate cosmetic surgery, and state that they plan to implement the recommendations of the Keogh review. This review, which took place in 2013, focussed on regulation in the cosmetic interventions sector following the PIP implant scandal. Details of the recommendations can be found here, and include a register of all those performing cosmetic interventions and a registry of cosmetic devices in order to provide better monitoring of patient outcomes and device safety.
The Lib Dems also focus on the social care sector, and they plan to introduce a statutory code of conduct backed up by a care workers’ suitability register in order to ensure that those who work in the sector are suitably trained and qualified.
It remains to be seen who will win the election on Thursday. The Green Party and UKIP make no mention specifically of healthcare regulation in their manifestos, but that is not to say that they do not have their own views as to how the sector should be overseen. There are certainly plenty of ideas regarding reform of the healthcare system and budget more generally, which will necessarily impact in some way on the regulatory aspect. With the creation of one new regulatory body already this year, are we heading towards the fragmentation of health and social care regulation in distinct specialised branches? Or will we swing to the other end of the pendulum, with a smaller number of ‘super’ regulators? Only time will tell, but we may have a slightly clearer idea from 9 June.