Viewpoint - Harry Cayton
Time to rethink regulation
The Government has just published its response to last year’s report of the Law Commissions on professional regulation. Although the regulators were disappointed that Ministers did not press ahead with new legislation in this parliamentary session it seems the delay may at least have provided space for further thought.
When the Law Commissions report first came out we were critical; we thought it had lost focus on public protection and that many of its recommendations complicated rather than simplified the regulatory framework. We are pleased then that the government has taken note of some of our comments and is proposing a modified Bill which takes better account of the public interest. The big regret though is that it still intends to extend the notorious ‘five- year rule’, which allows the GMC to reject complaints as out of time, to all the regulators. The regulators say they don’t want it and don’t need it so why the Department of Health is persisting in this restriction on people’s right to complain is a mystery. It certainly runs counter to the spirit of openness in the Francis recommendations and in other policies such as the duty of candour. There is no certainty of legislation in a new Parliament in any event.
In the meantime technical changes are being rushed through Parliament in a series of amendments to some regulators current legislation; the NMC and GDC will get quicker and somewhat less robust ways of dealing with less serious cases and the GMC will get the right to appeal against itself in a strange piece of legal sleight of hand which seems to us to add nothing to public protection. Then there is the ‘Safety and Quality Bill’, which changes our and the regulators’ purpose to no obvious purpose, the Deregulation Bill which introduces some new regulations and a move to statutorily regulate a tiny number of public health specialists who never did any harm to anyone, against all evidence and advice.
Meanwhile the Health Committee continues its scrutiny of the regulators, using our performance reviews as a basis for many of its questions. The GMC and NMC have already had their moment in the spotlight and the committee will be hearing from the GDC in March. Despite the lack of the Law Commissions Bill professional regulation has rarely been more politically visible than now.
The Authority intends to use the months ahead to think about more radical, more patient centred reforms to regulation than are currently being proposed.