In the last month there have been a number of noteworthy press releases by various regulatory bodies, particularly in relation to improvements to their processes.  A summary of these is set out below.

General Dental Council (GDC)

The GDC has announced a number of changes aimed at improving the quality and speed of handling complaints against dental professionals.  These changes are currently underway and mark the first phase of a complete overhaul of the GDC’s fitness to practise processes.

Key changes include:

  • an increase in the number of meetings and hearings; and
  • an improved process to fast track the most serious cases and deal proportionately with others.

As part of this overhaul, the GDC is currently seeking views on proposals, to be submitted between 17 October and 15 November 2011.

General Medical Council (GMC)

The GMC has launched two consultations. The first seeks views on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as this will play an important role in doctors’ revalidation. The second consultation asks for feedback on the draft regulations which set out the powers the GMC will have for revalidation.

Following a six month pilot, the GMC and Victim Support have launched a joint initiative to provide support to witnesses who attend GMC hearings. Patients and health professionals who provide evidence at Fitness to Practise hearings will be offered independent emotional and practical support, whether they are called by the GMC or by the doctor.

General Optical Council (GOC)

Following the publication of proposed changes to the GOC’s Fitness to Practise Rules for public consultation in February, the Council has now agreed changes to the rules.

These changes include:

  • two separate case examiners will decide whether to refer a complaint for a hearing;
  • the case examiners can review a decision not to refer a complaint to a hearing at any time within five years, and longer in exceptional cases;
  • the Fitness to Practise Committee can order that the prosecution or defence pay part or all of their costs in substantive and review hearings.

General Social Care Council (GSCC)

The Health and Social Care Bill, which contains powers to transfer the functions of the GSCC to the HPC, had its second reading in the House of Lords on 11 and 12 October 2011. The Committee stage, which involves a line by line examination of the Bill, was due to commence on 25 October 2011.

Health Professions Council (HPC)

In preparation for the HPC taking over the regulation of social workers in England from the GSCC, the HPC are consulting on the draft standards of proficiency and the threshold level of qualification for social workers.

The HPC are inviting all interested stakeholders to respond to these consultations by Friday 18 November 2011.

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)

The NMC has developed new procedures for dealing with concerns and complaints about nurses and midwives.

As part of this new procedure the NMC will review all new referrals to identify:

  • referrals where a case can be closed immediately because it does not raise any issues of impaired fitness to practise;
  • referrals which need to be fully investigated immediately because the issues are potentially serious and suggest that the Registrant’s fitness to practise may be impaired; and
  • referrals where concerns are raised but on their own these are unlikely to amount to impaired fitness to practise and which therefore might be best dealt with under local procedures for considering complaints.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is currently in the process of developing professional standards for hospital pharmacy services and is seeking the active engagement of chief pharmacists and their teams. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society aims to publish these standards by March 2012.

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

On 6 October 2011, the SRA launched its revised approach to regulation with the move to outcomes-focused regulation (OFR). OFR concentrates on 10 main principles and is a move away from the former more prescriptive regime.

Bar Standards Board

The Bar Standards Board has announced that it is to consult with its members on a future Code of Conduct for the profession and legal business structures.  The consultation is to be released in January 2012.   

Ewan MacLeod, Head of Professional Practice, has said:

We believe that a single Code for both individual barristers and   alternative business           structures is in the public interest. It will ensure that consumers will know what they can expect from barristers within the full range of business structures available and   that barristers will have a clear understanding of their obligations, regardless of how they choose to practise.

The Bar Council has also released the final requirements for Chambers in relation to first tier complaints handling. The requirements place an obligation on Chambers and barristers to ensure that the lay client is aware of their right to complain to Chambers and to the Legal Ombudsman. These obligations were put in place following extensive consultation with the Bar, practice managers and senior clerks. Full details can be found on the Bar Standards Board website.