Our August bulletin highlighted the Government's review of the implementation of the new Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator (OHPA). The consultation following this review, due to close on 11 October 2010, reviews the background that led to the establishment of OHPA, discusses the current regulatory position and sets out the Government's preferred course of action.
The purpose of OHPA was to enhance public and professional confidence in the adjudication of fitness to practise cases following the high-profile murders committed by Harold Shipman in the 1990s, and the subsequent public inquiry. The fifth report of the Shipman inquiry raised concerns about the independence of the General Medical Council's adjudication function and recommended that it should be separated from the GMC's investigation and prosecution roles.
The Health and Social Care Act 2008 contained the legal framework for OHPA which was, in due course, to provide adjudication functions for the GMC, the General Optical Council and other healthcare regulators.
OHPA became a legal entity in January 2010 and was due to begin adjudicating on GMC fitness to practise cases in April 2011. Once operational, OHPA would be responsible for the following matters, all of which are currently carried out by each of the individual regulators:
- deciding whether a health professional’s FTP is impaired;
- ensuring the safety of patients and the public by imposing sanctions following a finding of impairment that may restrict or remove a health professional’s registration where appropriate;
- considering the need for temporary sanctions (interim orders) restricting or suspending a health professional’s registration prior to a full hearing on FTP;
- reviewing any sanctions; and
- deciding whether health professionals ought to be allowed to practise again after being removed from the register for FTP reasons.
The current consultation, prompted by the Government's spending review, sets out the changes in the GMC since the Shipman inquiry, the changes that OHPA would plan to make to existing GMC procedures, and the GMC's own proposals for delivering more independent adjudication. The consultation also highlights the increase in the projected start-up costs of OHPA, which have risen from an expected £3 to £4 million to between £10 and £16 million.
The consultation sets out three possible options:
- proceed with OHPA implementation as previously planned;
- repeal the legislation which established OHPA and, in separate legislation, enhance the independence of adjudication and modernise existing processes at the GMC (and subsequently review whether also to do so for the GOC and other health regulators);
- repeal the legislation establishing OHPA and take no further action.
The Government's preferred route is option 2, which it considers will achieve more independent adjudication in a more proportionate manner, but it is inviting responses from relevant parties as to their views on the various options.