Regulation of Health and Social Care Professionals

Status: This project is complete.  The final report and draft Bill were published on 2 April 2014.  We have presented our recommendations to Government and await its response

This project was a review of the UK law relating to the regulation of health care professionals, and in England only, the regulation of social workers.

The projected reviewed the remit of the project extended to the legal frameworks for the following bodies: the General Chiropractic Council, the General Dental Council, the General Medical Council, the General Optical Council, the General Osteopathic Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council, the Health Professions Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland and the Professional Standards Authority.  These bodies are responsible for regulating 32 professions in the UK – consisting of approximately 1.44 million professionals.

The issues considered by the review included:

  • The registration and renewal of registration of professionals, student registers, registration appeals, protected titles and protected functions
  • How the regulators oversee the quality of pre-registration and post-registration education and training
  • How the regulators set standards for professional conduct and practice, and ensure ongoing practice standards (for example, through revalidation)
  • The investigation and adjudication of fitness to practise case
  • The role of the Professional Standards Authority
  • The regulation of business premises and activities
  • The governance arrangements of the regulators, including the size and composition of Councils
  • The systems through which the regulators can be held to account, including the roles of the Privy Council, Government and Parliament, and duties to consult the public.

The project

The project originated in the form of a reference from the Department of Health.  For more details see the White Paper Enabling Excellence: Autonomy and Accountability for Healthcare Workers, Social Workers and Social Care Workers.  It was a tripartite project between the Law Commission, the Scottish Law Commission and the Northern Ireland Law Commission.

Our consultation paper was published on 1 March 2012.  The paper contained 111 provisional proposals and 66 consultation questions.  During the public consultation period, we attended 44 events across the UK.  These events covered a wide audience, including patients, health and social care professionals, academics, professional bodies, the regulatory bodies, lawyers, service providers and representatives from charities and campaigning organisations.  At each of the consultation events, we received a wide range of views on various aspects of our proposals.

We received 192 written responses to the consultation paper, from a range of different individuals and organisations.  The consultation analysis was published on 20 February 2013.

Our recommendations

We published a report explaining and setting out our recommendations on 2 April 2014, together with a draft Bill. The final report and draft Bill sets out a new single legal framework for the regulation of all health and social care professionals. The reforms aim to sweep away the out-dated and inflexible decision-making processes associated with the current legislation. The new legal framework would introduce a clear and consistent legal framework which is needed to enable the regulators to uphold their duty to protect the public.

In many areas, the reforms consolidate and simplifies the existing legal framework.  The draft Bill also imposes greater consistency across the regulators in some areas where this is necessary in the public interest (such as the conduct of fitness to practise hearings).  Otherwise the regulators would be given greater autonomy to be able to deliver its functions in a way that is suited to the profession concerned.  This would include broad powers to make or amend rules concerning issues such as registration and renewals, and education, standards and continuing professional development – which are not subject to approval by Government or any Parliamentary procedure.  There would be a requirement on the regulators to consult when considering changes to their rules and a requirement that each regulator must provide information to the public and registrants about its work.  The procedures for making new rules would also be subject to oversight by the Professional Standards Authority.

The draft Bill also reforms the role of Government in professional regulation. The draft Bill therefore targets Government oversight on key areas where there is sufficient public interest and matters that give rise to questions about the allocation of public resources. Government is also given default powers to intervene in cases of regulatory failure.

Project documents