The Department of Health in the UK has recently acknowledged that “the regulation of healthcare professionals must change in order to protect patients, to support the transformation of our healthcare services and to meet future challenges. It needs to be faster, simpler, better and less costly”.

With that in mind, the Department published a consultation paper entitled “Promoting professionalism, reforming regulation”, which considers what reforms are needed across the UK healthcare regulatory system in order to support workforce development while maximising public protection in a more efficient way.

The consultation paper invites views in respect of a variety of matters, including:

  • Designing a more responsive and flexible model of professional regulation which can adapt to changing patterns of healthcare without the need for frequent legislative change;
  • Whether the Professional Standards Authority (the “PSA”) should take on the role of advising the four UK governments on which groups of healthcare professionals should be regulated. Currently, there are 9 healthcare regulatory bodies in the UK tasked with regulating 32 professions. There are a further 55 occupations covered by 24 accredited voluntary registers.
  • The paper suggests that:
    • clear criteria are established to assess which level of professional regulatory oversight is appropriate for different professional groups.
    • the regulation of healthcare professionals should be used proportionately and only where the risks to the public and patient protection cannot be addressed in other ways, for example through employer oversight or accredited registers.
  • Whether there should be fewer healthcare regulatory bodies. The paper outlines that a reduction in the number of regulatory bodies would deliver:
    • a more consistent approach to regulation.
    • savings in the cost of regulation.
    • would simplify the landscape, making it clearer to employers, patients and the public who to contact when they have concerns.
  • Whether there should be increased joint-working, sharing functions and services between the regulators. In this regard, the paper considers the possibility of a shared online register, search engine or online portal of all registered healthcare professionals and a single set of generic standards for all healthcare professionals as well as a single adjudicator responsible for all fitness to practise decisions and a single organisation conducting back office services.
  • In terms of fitness to practise Inquiries, it is noted that the existing process of dealing with allegations made about professionals to their regulators is considered by many to be cumbersome and lengthy and one which is costly. A more inquisitorial approach is recommended as opposed to an adversarial approach. The paper refers to the possibility of utilising dispute resolution and mediation to manage concerns.
  • In terms of the range of powers available in order to respond to concerns, it is suggested that regulatory bodies should have a consistent and flexible range of powers that allow them to take a prompt and proportionate response to fitness to practise concerns. It is envisaged that this would allow for a more preventative approach being taken and one which would allow for more time and resources to be applied to the ongoing professional development of all registrants.

The consultation will close on 23 January 2018.