The recently published Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill, is intended, in part, to streamline the disciplinary processes of the Medical Council, the Dental Council, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland and CORU.
While many of the proposed amendments relate to the recognition of professional qualifications and registration, several significant amendments to the fitness to practise process are proposed. If implemented, these changes would affect a wide range of registered health care professionals such as registered doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, dentists, dietitians, dispensing opticians, optometrists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, radiographers, social workers and speech and language therapists.
Requirement to make a declaration on registration and annual renewal
The Bill introduces a requirement that health care professionals must declare any convictions or sanctions imposed on their practise by any regulatory body in Ireland or elsewhere when applying for registration. This declaration would also have to be made at annual renewal.
Changes to the confirmation and appeal of sanctions
Another proposed change is that all sanctions, including those relating to advice, admonishment and censure in writing, must be approved by the High Court. Health care professionals would also be able to appeal to the High Court against any sanction imposed. The current legislation provides that lesser sanctions do not require High Court confirmation. As health care professionals currently have no right of appeal to the High Court where they have been advised, admonished or censured by their regulator, this change is likely to be welcomed.
Additional grounds for complaint
The Bill provides for additional grounds of complaint where a health care professional has been prohibited from practising or had restrictions placed on his or her practise by a regulator in Ireland or another jurisdiction.
Changes to the regulators’ powers to obtain and rely on documentation
The proposed legislation would allow health care regulators to use information on sanctions imposed in other countries in fitness to practise cases.
Changes to the publication of information
The Bill provides that all sanctions imposed on health care professionals must be published. Interestingly, the Bill also allows the Fitness to Practise Committee of the Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Board to order that some or all the information regarding a complaint should not be published and makes it an offence to do so.
Changes to the screening of complaints
Under the proposed scheme, the CEO of the Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Board will be able to investigate complaints at screening stage, using authorised officers. The CEO of both regulators would also be able to decide, at screening stage, whether a complaint is frivolous or vexatious. This decision is currently made by the regulators’ Preliminary Proceedings Committees. Any complaints deemed not to be frivolous or vexatious are currently investigated by a case officer under the direction of the Preliminary Proceedings Committee. Under the new system, these officers will now assist the CEO, rather than the Preliminary Proceedings Committee with investigating complaints. The Preliminary Proceedings Committee will still decide whether there is sufficient cause to warrant further action in respect of a complaint. When making this decision the Committee will consider the officer’s investigation report.
Health care regulators receive significant volumes of complaints. In 2017, the Medical Council received 450 complaints and the Nursing and Midwifery Board received 127, which was a 90% increase on 2016.
The changes proposed in the Regulated Professions Bill are long awaited and should go some way towards helping regulators, particularly the Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Board, to manage their increasing workload more quickly and efficiently. This will benefit the public, health care professionals and their regulators alike.