For the regulators in our sector, the pandemic has been a period of unprecedented change, disruption and evolution. Last autumn, the Authority set about a project to capture the learning that came out of the ways regulators responded during the first period to July 2020, and today we publish the report of that work.
The regulators were implementing change with extraordinary speed. Some were establishing temporary registration. All were producing guidance to help steer registrants through the terribly difficult decisions they were having to make. All were transferring work and decision-making online. This was impressive – reducing the costs, increasing efficiency and speed, and reducing carbon footprint, to name but a few of the apparent benefits. But we were also hearing some voices of doubt, that the patient and public voice was being lost, and that some were excluded from the world online.
We felt it was important to capture the insights of that first period before we all move on. But how could we even begin to work through the changes, how could we look at what happened and any new risks at play, before there was any opportunity for formal evaluation or assessment? How could we capture the thinking of this moment in time, while the pandemic was still going on? How could we achieve any kind of deep dive when everyone was working so hard to keep the show on the road?
Using the case-study approach
We felt that a case study approach allowed us to do this in a reasonably pragmatic way. It gave the regulators the space to set out for themselves why they had made the changes and adaptations that they did in a number of areas. We are truly grateful to the regulators for the work they put into the 28 case studies in the report.
The case studies relate to what happened in that first period up to the end of July 2020. Of course, the discussion in the report does not limit itself strictly to that time but brings in some of what has happened since. If you are after an up to date account of where the regulators are now, their websites would be your best first port of call.
I hope the report will be a ‘document of record’ and of interest to a wide readership. Those who want to use the experience of the pandemic to inform their responses to the current consultation on regulatory reform; those who in time will study and enquire into aspects of the pandemic; regulators from other countries who want to know how the UK responded, as they review their own actions; those who will be involved in planning for future crisis preparedness, to suggest a few.
The Authority remains committed to regulatory reform during this crisis, with a focus on ensuring that regulation is more agile and puts patient protection at its centre. Greater flexibilities must be balanced with appropriate oversight, including to minimise risks arising from unjustifiable disparity of regulatory approaches, processes or practices; that the quality of decision-making is upheld; and that EDI impacts are fully considered.
It’s not our last word. The recommendations only aim to set out areas for future work, more discussion, more planning at such time as this situation stabilises. And shortly we will be publishing a further report, this time focusing on the ethical challenges for registrants of the pandemic. Many of us are gathering our thoughts towards a response to the DHSC’s current consultation on regulatory reform – how will we distil our experiences of the pandemic to make regulation more adaptable and flexible in future, but balanced with oversight and accountability? So there is much more to reflect on and discuss, as we also try to make sense of the losses that we have all endured, and work out how we will emerge from this most difficult time.
You can read the report, Learning from Covid-19, here.
Our first look at Government proposals to reform professional regulation, Let's get it right for public protection, can be read here.