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Covid-19: what impact will it have on regulatory policy going forward?

The Coronavirus pandemic has touched upon every aspect of our daily lives, but its impact on the health and care sector will have long-lasting effects and it’s also likely to shape regulatory policy well into the future. At the end of April, we held our first (virtual) meeting with regulatory colleagues to discuss how to frame our current and future policy work in this context. The meeting gave us all a chance to communicate and more importantly collaborate – helping us to identify common concerns – and to work together to address and manage them. In this blog our Director of Standards and Policy, Christine Braithwaite, describes what was discussed in more detail.

Why meet now?

On 30 April we met virtually with fellow regulatory colleagues to talk about Covid-19 and the implications this will have on current and future policy work. After an initial month of upheaval, our colleagues were able to share an update on their response to the pandemic in terms of policy activity. It was, most importantly, an opportunity to identify points of shared concern and interest, so that we may work collaboratively to address and manage them, in a time where collaboration may appear to be most challenging.

Since March, the operation of health and social care has seen transformation at an unprecedented pace. These new procedures have meant that regulation too must function in an entirely unique way, the demands of which no one could have anticipated. There has been the establishment of temporary registers allowing professionals to re-join the workforce; there is a quickening of registration for final year students; and professionals are now being deployed beyond their usual boundaries in order to meet the needs of the public.

Evolution of standards and guidance

The evolution and impact of standards and guidance for infection control is an immediate priority. What implications will this have on public confidence, for example? What types of changes can be expected in professional practice? It is also clear that points surrounding workforce changes must be considered, including the practical issue of transitioning from the critical care to the rehabilitation phase and how professionals will grapple with balancing needs alongside additional demand. The redeployment of professionals will significantly affect the extent to which traditional regulatory practice can still be of use. This, alongside other challenges such as remote hearings and decision-making, will all require regulatory policy to adapt quickly, whilst ensuring that high standards are maintained.

Current and future challenges

Understanding and managing the effect that these changes will have on the public is paramount. The emergence of remote consultations in new sectors demands a new approach to how such professions are regulated. We must observe the impact on patient voices when the health service is being stretched beyond its usual capacity, and how regulation can function in a way that ensures they feel heard.

Making sure that professionals are adequately prepared for their practice is a huge challenge when new processes of fast-tracking, redeployment, and volunteering have become necessary factors – but these changes can also unveil potential, including a wider understanding of the future capability of our health services. The health and care sector is now required to embrace new operational procedures that previously wouldn’t have been thought possible. With threats, there also lies opportunity.

As we transition out of lockdown and find ourselves in a ‘new normal’, some challenges will be here to stay. How will the public perceive clinical services beyond this culture of fear, and how will the patient-professional relationship change as a result of remote consultations or inevitable errors in care due to backlogs and overcapacity? These long-term changes are the questions we must be proactive about, even as the landscape continues to shift in ways we can’t quite anticipate.

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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.