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Professional regulation and registration will need to be flexible to respond to the Covid-19 emergency

With the Coronavirus pandemic placing unprecedented pressures on those working in health and care and those who regulate and register them – our Chief Executive discusses how to balance the need for flexibility with accountability and ensure that professional regulation is acting in the best interests of patient and public safety.

The Authority recognises that the Coronavirus emergency is placing unprecedented pressures on health and care professionals, regulators and accredited registers. The priority of all should be to act in the best interests of patient and public safety.

It is important that the regulatory system provides as much flexibility and support for professionals as possible during this time, whilst still safeguarding patients and the public and ensuring that the regulators and registers remain accountable. We are committed to working collaboratively with the government, professional and system regulators, registers, employers, patient groups and the public in order to meet the challenges posed by this pandemic.

Most immediately, the Government has passed emergency legislation that allows several regulators to provide temporary registration for professionals whose registration has lapsed, and all are adapting their policies and processes to respond effectively to these circumstances. We are supportive of the regulators making temporary changes that respond to the challenges raised by Covid-19 but that do not introduce additional significant risks for patient and public safety. Our initial review of the arrangements for temporary registration suggest that these are proportionate and pragmatic and should be successful at bolstering the workforce at a time of significant demand.

We recognise that as a result of the emergency, some processes may be significantly delayed; and in some circumstances, it may be appropriate for certain restrictions to be relaxed if the interests of the patients or public safety require this. Regulators and registers may also need to prioritise aspects of their work over less urgent work to meet the emergency. We will be especially mindful of the current resource implications for regulators when undertaking our assessments and will take account of the current circumstances in our performance reviews.

The 10 statutory regulators we oversee refer to Government guidance in their response to the pandemic and have provided individual advice for registrants on exercising professional judgement, undertaking and recording appropriate risk assessments, and considering using remote consultation in line with relevant guidance. Each regulator has also provided separate guidance specific to their professions, relating to how registrants may need to limit or cease any non-urgent, face-to-face treatments.

Furthermore, we recognise that as a result of the emergency, the accredited registers we oversee will face significant challenges and have to work in different ways, meaning that there may also be an impact on timeliness for submission of annual renewal applications and responses to requests from the Authority. There are 88,000 professionals covered by our Accredited Registers Programme, and many of those that use hands-on approaches to care have made separate statements calling for practitioners to cease face-to-face consultations and treatments. There are, however, around 55,000 mostly self-employed counsellors and psychotherapists – this could prove an invaluable resource to support those affected by Covid-19, including frontline health and care professionals.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (England) 2020 sets out the statutory basis requiring the closure of certain businesses and identified exemptions. At paragraph 37 of Part 3 the following businesses are identified as not required to close: pharmacies, dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services, including services relating to mental health. Many of our registers have collaborated to develop a campaign to raise awareness of the role of counselling and psychotherapy during this crisis. Separate registers have also issued individual guidance for practitioners on their register to practise in the safest possible way during this time; this often means that, where possible, counsellors do not see clients face-to-face if other options are available.

As an Authority, we will use this opportunity to also think about the longer-term – about how the current crisis might change the regulatory landscape – and learn lessons for the future. We can seize opportunities to better meet stakeholder needs, particularly those of patients, service users and the public. And, as always, we will continue to act in line with our values – integrity, respect, transparency, fairness and teamwork – reinforcing the strong, compassionate and positive culture of health and care in the UK.

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Please note the views expressed in these blogs are those of the individual bloggers and do not necessarily reflect those of the Professional Standards Authority.