Health Professions July 9, 2019
Regulators to have greater autonomy over ‘fitness to practise’ processes

By News Feature - Accountable Care Journal

The official response to the ‘Promoting professionalism; reforming regulation’ consultation, outlines how the regulation of healthcare workers such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists will change to better support professionals and modern fitness to practise processes.

The legislative changes will see decisions about many fitness to practise cases made more quickly, with lengthy and unnecessary hearings withdrawn when the registrant and regulator are in agreement about the next steps. Regulators will be given more time to focus on supporting their registrants, as the system becomes 'faster, simpler and more responsive to the needs of staff, patients and employers,' says the Department of Health and Social Care.

This will provide earlier resolution for patients, families and professionals, and will ensure that the steps necessary to protect the public are put in place sooner.

The UK national and devolved governments will develop legislation that will:

  • Provide all regulatory bodies with a broadly consistent set of powers to manage fitness to practise cases effectively and efficiently;
  • Enable regulators to make simple operational changes without the lengthy process of seeking the agreement of Parliament; and
  • Remove the General Medical Council’s right to appeal decisions of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service to the High Court, in line with the recommendations in the Williams Review.

Many of the regulators’ day-to-day functions are set out in legislation which is subject to the agreement of parliament, adding unnecessary time and complexity to making simple operational changes which hinders the regulatory bodies’ ability to be responsive to a fast-changing healthcare environment. In the future, regulators will have greater powers to set more of their own operating procedures, such as the number of people on a fitness to practise panel, without the need for parliamentary approval.

Health minister, Stephen Hammond, said: "These changes will allow regulators to dedicate more of their resources to supporting the professionals working in our NHS and contribute to safe, high-quality patient care."

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, responded: "Employees and employers will welcome steps to make the fitness to practise process quicker, fairer and effective; they will also look forward to further reform, which will allow the regulation of new roles and professions to support their full deployment to care for our patients."

Meanwhile, Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, chief executive and registrar at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, welcomed the response, adding: "I’m really glad the response set out today recognises that and will enable us to operate with greater flexibility and autonomy – shaping our regulatory requirements more easily through guidance and policy, rather than detailed rules – which will be so much better for everyone involved."