Complex, outdated and adversarial regulation of healthcare professionals to be reformed


The Government have responded to the promoting professionalism; reforming regulation consultation. They have said that the UK’s model of professional regulation for healthcare professionals has become increasingly complex, outdated and is seen as adversarial and legalistic and that change is necessary.


The consultation received over 900 responses from individuals, organisations, healthcare professionals and members of the public.


The Government have prioritised changes to the regulators’ fitness to practise processes and operating framework. They have said that this will realise the greatest benefits for regulatory bodies, registrants and the public. These changes are aimed at delivering:


  • Modern and efficient fitness to practise processes.
  • Better support for professionals.
  • More responsive and accountable regulation.


Professional regulation assures the public that the people who provide healthcare are qualified, capable and competent. When healthcare professionals do not meet these standards, professional regulators must act to protect the public. Professional regulation underpins public confidence that healthcare professionals provide safe care.


However, the Government have said in this response that the regulators of healthcare professionals could do more, and want to do more, to support the professionalism of all registrants.


As part of their response, the Governement has said that the legislation that governs the nine UK healthcare regulatory bodies is bureaucratic, inflexible and has led to complex and inefficient systems.


The regulatory bodies are set to be provided with broadly consistent powers to handle fitness to practise cases in a more responsive and proportionate manner.


Significant change


Fitness to practise concerns will be concluded quickly, proportionately and fairly, replacing the current bureaucratic, time-consuming processes that are burdensome and can be stressful for patients, their families, registrants and employers. The most significant change will enable regulators to resolve fitness to practise cases without the need for a full panel hearing where it is appropriate to do so.


The Government claim that the changes to fitness to practise will allow decisions to be made more quickly, providing early resolution for patients, families and professionals, and ensuring that the steps necessary to protect the public are put in place sooner.


Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, said:


“The recent response sets out the next steps for the UK and Devolved Governments in reforming regulation to promote the professionalism of health and social care professionals and to further improve the protection of patients.


“We welcome the commitment to bring forward changes to the legislation setting out the fitness to practise processes for the health professional regulators. Patients and the public have the right to expect that concerns about any health or social care professional will be addressed quickly, consistently and fairly.  It is therefore important that these legislative changes happen at the same time for all the regulators and at the earliest possible opportunity.


“We strongly support the move to give us and the other regulators greater autonomy to set more of our own operating procedures in fitness to practise. This will enable us to be more responsive to external developments, take a proportionate, person-centred approach in all cases, and quickly improve the effectiveness of our processes, which will benefit both patients and health professionals. It will also enable us to spend more of our resources on supporting the professionalism of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. These proposals are very much in line with the GPhC’s strategic approach and are to be welcomed.


“We agree that this greater autonomy must be accompanied by greater accountability. There needs to be openness and transparency across all our processes to maintain the confidence of the public and health professionals. We welcome the plans to increase our accountability to the UK and Devolved legislatures in the countries in which we regulate.


“In the response, the UK and Devolved Governments outline their intention to move forward with proposals to change the current structure of our Council to a unitary board, comprising executive and non-executive directors.


“We expressed our concerns about the proposed move to unitary boards in our response to the consultation, including whether this would allow appropriate ‘board’-level input from both of the professions and in each of the three countries which we regulate. We remain unconvinced that it will improve the governance of the health professional regulators.


“We believe the current structure for our Council, in which we have equal numbers of professional and lay members, is working very effectively and brings significant benefits, and crucially commands the confidence of the pharmacy professions. We want to make sure these benefits are not lost and any changes to governance arrangements are made in a way that mitigates the potential difficulties this could create and will look to work with the government to try to achieve this.


“The original consultation also explored whether there should be a reduction in the overall number of regulators, and how they should be configured. We agree with the government response that more work is needed before bringing a proposal forward for consultation, to understand the rationale for making this type of change and if the potential benefits would outweigh the challenges this would present.


“There is much to consider in today’s response. We will discuss it in detail with our Council and work closely with the UK and Devolved Governments and all other stakeholders as this work is taken forward, to help make sure all the changes achieve their aims of supporting the professionalism of health professionals and strengthening protection for patients. We also need to consider what these changes mean for us in terms of our role in regulating registered pharmacies, as well as pharmacy professionals.


“While we wait for legislative change, we will continue to make improvements to how we work within our current powers, including by developing our future strategy for fitness to practise”.