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Regulation of health care professionals

1 March 2012

In a consultation (Regulation of Health Care Professionals and Regulation of Social Care Professionals in England) opening today, the Law Commissions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are seeking views on how the regulation of health care professionals in the UK and social workers in England can be made clearer, simpler, more modern and more consistent.

In the UK today there are around 1.4 million health professionals working in 31 different professions governed by nine separate regulatory bodies. These include the General Medical, Dental and Optical Councils, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Health Professions Council. In England, social workers are currently regulated by the General Social Care Council and they, too, come within the scope of the project.

The job of the regulators is to keep professional registers, set standards for education and practice, and ensure that professionals are fit to practise. In doing so they must act in a way that promotes and protects the health, safety and well-being of the public. But they currently operate within a wide variety of legal frameworks that have evolved in different ways and at a different pace, and were established long before devolution. This has led to a great deal of inconsistency in their powers, duties and responsibilities. In addition, the current system for approving rules is complex and expensive.

In their first ever joint consultation, the Commissions are setting out provisional proposals for the structure of a new legal framework across the UK and seeking views on how a new framework would:

Frances Patterson QC, the Law Commissioner leading on the project for England and Wales, said: “The existing legal framework for professional regulation is complex and expensive, and it requires continuous Government intervention to keep it up to date. This joint consultation will inform our joint project to establish a regulatory system for the four countries of the UK that is clear, consistent and modern. It must be robust enough to ensure proper standards for safe and effective practice yet flexible enough to cope with emerging and future policy developments.”

Patrick Layden QC TD, leading the project for the Scottish Law Commission, said: “Policy makers throughout the UK are encouraging people to take more responsibility for their health. We should try to build a system of health regulation that is easier for citizens, as well as health and social care professionals, to understand and that is committed to protect the health, safety and well-being of the public.”

Leading the project for the Northern Ireland Law Commission, The Hon Mr Justice McCloskey said: “The regulatory system governing the health and social care professions of the UK has its roots in a time that long pre-dates devolution. One of the aims of this project is to ensure that, as we reform the regulatory system and bring it up to date, the legitimate interests of the devolved administrations are properly recognised and expressed.”

The Commissions seek responses by 31 May 2012. The consultation paper includes a full list of provisional proposals. A separate summary is available.

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