What is the ‘emerging concerns protocol’?

The licence to openly share concerns at the right time makes it fundamentally easier for health and social care organisations to recognise links between different pieces of information and identify emerging issues.

The emerging concerns protocol, as enacted by the Health and Social Care Regulators Forum, has been developed to implement a clearly defined regulatory framework to enable the sharing of information that may indicate risks to service users, their carers, families or professionals.

The protocol, which has the support of the General Dental Council, NHS England and NHS Improvement, has been signed by:

  • CQC
  • General Medical Council
  • General Pharmaceutical Council
  • Healthcare Professionals Council
  • Health Education England
  • Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
  • Nursing and Midwifery Council
  • Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Further signatories, including that of the General Dental Council, are expected in the coming weeks.

How will the protocol be used in practice?

Any organisation that is a partner in the protocol may initiate its use. The protocol deliberately does not set out an exhaustive list of the concerns or issues to which it applies. In deciding whether information ought to be shared, annex D proposes a series of questions to facilitate a thorough examination of the concerns and associated risk.

Any concern identified will fall into one of three categories:

  • concerns about individuals or groups of professionals
  • concerns about healthcare systems and the healthcare environment
  • concerns that might have an impact on trust and confidence in professionals or the professions overall

In the event that a decision is made that information of concern is to be shared, the organisation holding that information will contact other relevant signatory organisations. A regulatory review panel will then be convened in order to enable a cross-organisational discussion and facilitate the appropriate, coordinated intervention.

What impact will the protocol have on information sharing?

The protocol seeks to formalise the existing data sharing arrangements, whilst providing a clear strategy for a collaborative approach to raising and addressing concerns. The protocol is an evolving agreement which will not replace existing responsibilities and arrangements for taking emergency action, including arrangements for whistleblowing and responsibilities under the duty of candour and fit and proper persons regulations.

A fundamental aim of the protocol is to provide clear guidance on how to report and fully address concerns which, whilst not constituting an immediate threat to the health, safety and well-being of service users, may indicate a future risk. The early identification of concerns will permit issues to be escalated proactively, not reactively; an increased level of transparency and accountability will inspire an improved overall quality of care.

Ultimately, the protocol will create a cooperative interface across health and social care, ensuring that those who use services, their carers and families, receive high-quality services from professional staff and registered health and social care organisations.