6 July 2021
In March 2021 the Department of Health and Social Care published a consultation document Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public. This set out proposals for reforming how healthcare professionals are regulated, with seventy questions for stakeholders to answer.
The Government’s stated objectives are to maintain public safety; protect registrants’ rights; minimise the costs of regulation; and enable regulators to respond to changing workforce models and developments in health and social care delivery without the need to seek legislative change on an ongoing basis.
To achieve these objectives, the Government is intending to move to a more high-level legislative framework that is consistent across regulators and gives them more freedom to change their detailed procedural rules.
The consultation document set out proposals for legislative change in relation to regulators’ core functions, namely the regulation of education and training, registration and the handling of concerns about fitness to practise.
In return for giving regulators greater autonomy, the Government is proposing to change regulators’ governance structure, with unitary boards made up of executive and non-executive members replacing non-executive councils. There will be no requirement for unitary boards to have registrant members in contrast with the current councils, which have an equal number of lay and registrant members.
In responding to the consultation, ABDO broadly welcomed the Government’s proposals. With healthcare professionals increasingly working in multi-disciplinary teams, it makes sense for regulators to have more consistent legislative frameworks. Giving regulators more freedom to change their detailed procedural rules should also enable them to operate more efficiently and respond to changing circumstances.
However, ABDO called on the Government to explain how the proposed move to unitary boards will lead to improved governance, highlighting the risk that without healthcare professionals on their governing councils, regulators will become more remote from the professions they regulate and as a result, will struggle to retain their confidence and that of the public.
To ensure continued public protection, the Government needs to put forward proposals for the oversight of regulators that combine strong governance with sufficient input from and awareness of the professions they regulate during what is, as it acknowledges, a period of profound and rapid change in the delivery of healthcare services, with significant differences in approach across the UK.