This week, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) put forward proposals to reform fitness to practise rules and regulation of healthcare professionals more generally.

Included in the proposals are plan to bring consistency in fitness to practise arrangements across all the regulators to overcome “considerable variation” in the fitness to practise powers.  The DHSC proposals include a standard three-stage fitness to practise process for all regulators:

  • Initial Assessment
  • Case Examiner Stage
  • Fitness to Practise Panel Stage

These proposals will impact on all of the UK’s ten healthcare regulators.  There has been acknowledgement from healthcare regulators that the statutory framework they are operating in is old and not fit for purpose. 

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, for example, said:

It’s been nearly 40 years since the legislation which underpins how we operate was passed and clearly, reform is long overdue.”

A central theme of regulator’s reaction to the DHSC proposals has been Covid, lessons learnt and how this should shape the future of fitness to practise.

John Barwick, HCPC Chief Executive said:

“or HCPC, the pandemic has highlighted the benefits of regulation which is responsive and adaptable as well as proportionate, and risk-based. It is good to see that the Government is looking to put in place a framework which supports agile and accountable regulation, and provides regulators with greater flexibility and autonomy.”

The significance of what is being proposed presents a rare opportunity for real fitness to practise regulatory reform and this has been recognised.  Stefan Czerniawski from the GDC referred to it as “a once in a generation opportunity”, echoed by the GMC’s CEO.  Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, commented that this was “a real opportunity to improve health professional regulation for patients.”

This was echoed by NMC Chief Executive, Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, who said regulatory reform

“will help professional regulators respond more quickly and flexibly to the modern-day needs of health and care services by reducing bureaucracy, fostering a fairer culture and supporting the delivery of safe, kind and effective care.”

There has however been some caution expressed.  Stefan Czerniawski from the GDC noted that although,

“at the core of the approach proposed … there would be much more scope for each of the regulators to set their own rules” he continued “While we very strongly support the overall approach, we will be looking carefully at the detail to make sure that we can achieve the best possible framework for dental regulation.”

Finally, there has also been a recognition that shaping the future of fitness to practise in the UK does not solely lie with the regulatory bodies.  There has been a recognition that input from wider stakeholders is key.  Matthew Redford, GOsC’s Chief Executive said the GOsC “would very much encourage all stakeholders to respond to this consultation so we can ensure that patient safety remains at the core of focus for regulatory reform’.  Equally GPhC CEO Duncan Rudkin said: “We would also strongly encourage patients and the public and the pharmacy professionals and pharmacy owners we regulate to respond. The voices of patients and health professionals need to be at the heart of this consultation, to help make sure that health professional regulation is fit for the future.”

A final word from Professional Standards Authority Chief Executive, Alan Clamp, said:

The Authority welcomes the publication of the Government consultation on reforms to the legislation of the health professional regulators.

We have called for reform and support much of what Government has proposed. We do, however, have some concerns about key areas of the fitness to practise proposals which if not addressed may reduce public protection.

We encourage all interested parties to respond to this important consultation. The Authority looks forward to working with the Government and wider stakeholders to ensure that these reforms meet the needs of patients, registrants and the public.

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