This week we have seen the Health Committee publish its first report on the work of the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).  On 7th January 2014 the Health Committee held an accountability session with the HCPC. This session forms part of the Committee’s regular programme of accountability sessions with health and care regulators.  The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) reported to the Committee that in 2012-2013 the HCPC met all its standards of good regulation. It commented that the HCPC’s performance was particularly notable as it has completed the transfer of social workers from the General Social Care Council during this time. The Committee reiterated the PSA‘s view that the HCPC operates as an effective regulator.

One of the areas explored in this session was the regulation of social care workers. The performance and regulation of social care workers is a topic regularly in the public spotlight. The Health Committee have given their support to the HCPC’s suggestion of introducing a negative register for those social care workers found to be unfit to practise. They agreed with the HCPC that voluntary registration would not be effective. The Committee recommends that the Government should publish plans for implementing the HCPC proposals.  In addition to this they recommend that the Government, working with the PSA and HCPC, develop further proposals for more effective regulation in this area.

The adult social care workforce in England is estimated to be 1.63million with an estimated 888,000 working in locations regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

The alternatives were considered and it was noted that with a voluntary register scheme there is no legal requirement on the individual to register. This in turn means that the regulator does not have the power to demand information pertinent to a fitness to practise issue and if an individual is removed they can carry on practising as a social care worker. A voluntary register would not meet the ongoing public concerns regarding the lack of regulation in this area.

A negative register would go towards improving public protection and confidence in that the regulator can deal effectively with those unsuitable to practise without placing a registration requirement on the rest of the workforce.  Employers and members of the public have the reassurance that a list is kept of those unfit to practise.

The HCPC outlined their proposals regarding the creation of a negative register, those included introducing a statutory code of conduct, only dealing with more serious complaints such as patients put at risk, ensuring there is no registration requirement and making it a criminal offence if an individual engaged in social care whilst subject to negative registration.

The HCPC accepted that there would be a cost implication to a negative register but that this is the more effective approach as it offers better public protection.

The Committee had expected that the draft Law Commission bill which set out the frame work for a negative register would form part of the Governments plans but it was not referred to in the recent Queens’ Speech. In light of this set back the Committee have called on the Government to set out what changes to the powers of the regulators it is planning to make through secondary legislation.

We await the Government response.