The Law Commission has given a preliminary indication of some of the proposals to be included in the new Regulation of Health and Social Care Professionals Bill. The bill is due to proceed into Parliament by May 2014, with a view to a new act being implemented by the end of 2014 or early 2015. The act will apply to regulators with the purpose of protecting, promoting and maintaining the welfare of the public.
One of the more striking of the proposals is for the abolition of investigation committees. Individual regulators will be allowed to keep these committees in place if they so wish but there will be no statutory requirement to do so. Regulators may choose the most efficient system in order to sift or filter complaints - either by retaining investigation committees or by implementing some other process.
There will also be a recommendation in relation to the power of statutory regulators to set up voluntary registers. The proposals will not apply to the Professional Standards Authority’s Accredited Voluntary Register Scheme.
Referral to a Fitness to Practise (FTP) hearing
The test for referral to a FTP hearing will be whether there is a 'realistic prospect' of a finding. It will, however, be made clear that a case does not have to be referred, even if that test is met. There may instead, for example, be provision for an alternative early disposal of a case.
The existing framework for fitness to practise will remain but it is proposed that there will be an additional statutory ground of impaired fitness to practise in the form of language deficiency.
Deficient professional performance
It is proposed that there will be a clearer distinction between deficient professional performance and misconduct. Although both will remain, the distinction will be more sharply defined.
The commission is considering whether to include provision in the Bill to enable regulators to publish 'negative registers', namely separate lists of those in relation to whom fitness to practise findings have been made.
There will be a provision in the new act to enable joint hearings, where a registrant with one regulator has been involved in the same incident as a registrant with another regulator.
Standard of proof
The civil standard of proof will apply across the board for those regulators subject to the act.
Section 60 Orders
The existing powers enabling regulators to introduce reforms to their processes using secondary legislation pursuant to section 60 of the Health Act 1999 will be swept away - although those orders currently in the process of being implemented will probably go ahead, being subsumed into the new act.
The Law Commission's proposals will include provision to enable regulators to investigate proactively even if there has been no formal complaint. If, for example, concerns are raised about a registrant as a result of investigative journalism, then these matters may be pursued by a regulator.
There will be a 'suite' of disciplinary sanctions available and each regulator may select its own list of sanctions from that suite to be made available to its committees.
Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS)
The Law Commission will recommend that the MPTS continues and that there will be provision for other regulators to adopt a similar system.
The Privy Council has previously acted as a 'post box' for the Department of Health. The Law Commission's proposals will be that the Privy Council should be removed from the process.