The Department of Health has announced a consultation on the way that healthcare professionals are regulated in the UK.
The move has been made to streamline the current system, make it less costly and to deliver better protection for patients.
This could lead to reducing the number of regulatory bodies to as few as three or four. Some of the savings could be passed on to registrants in the form of lower fees, as well as investing to support professionalism.
The development of a single set of generic standards for all healthcare professionals is also being considered. The Department of Health noted that any new standards would be underpinned by specific standards for each profession owned by the individual regulators.
Nine independent bodies, including the General Optical Council (GOC), currently regulate the UK’s healthcare professionals. But the Department of Health believes that the existing processes are “complex, inconsistent and bureaucratic.”
The Minister of State for Health, Philip Dunne MP, explained that the current regulatory system is not fit for a modern healthcare service.
“We want to understand what needs to change to make it clearer and simpler for the regulators and healthcare professionals, and to ensure patients have the best possible protection,” he said.
Following the consultation, the Department of Health hopes to offer regulators greater flexibility and discretion over how to investigate concerns about fitness to practise.
An overdue decision
The GOC has been approached for comment on the consultation announcement, but told OT in September that “certain changes would help us to operate more efficiently in several ways. This includes things that would improve the fitness to practise process, such as threshold criteria to filter out frivolous cases. We would also like more flexibility to set our own rules and therefore adapt faster to the changing nature of the professions.”
Chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), Duncan Rudkin, welcomed the consultation as an opportunity for positive reform.
“Our Council has a clear vision for the role and purpose of regulation and we are pleased that the objectives set out in the government’s consultation align closely with our own strategic plan,” he said.
Mr Rudkin explained that the GPhC intends to work more closely with other regulators ahead of any future legislative change, ensuring that the interest of patients and the public are the main focus.
“Our Council will respond to the consultation in due course having considered all of the questions raised and in particular how these relate to pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and registered pharmacies and the services they provide to patients and the public,” he added.
The chief executive of the General Medical Council, Charlie Massey, said that the current legal framework is too prescriptive.
“What we need is legislation that allows us to be swift and efficient in carrying out our primary duty – keeping patients safe – while reducing the burden on doctors,” Mr Massey said.
Reform and modernisation to the way healthcare services are regulated was described as “overdue” by the chief executive and registrar of the General Dental Council, Ian Brack.
However, he added that its own plans for reform are currently being pursued and are not dependent on the Department for Health’s consultation. “In the absence of firm legislative plans, reform within the existing legislation needs to be at the centre of proposals for change,” he said.
Commenting on the announcement, the AOP said that the consultation proposals will have an impact on a range of issues including fitness to practise, education and the proportionality of professional regulation.
“Our response will be developed through our Policy Committee, which has already discussed many of these issues in depth along with our Council, informed by the views and interests of our members,” an AOP spokesperson told OT.
The consultation ends on 23 January 2018 and the survey can be found on the Department of Health’s website.