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New study explores link between professional identity and patient safety

The research commissioned by the Professional Standards Authority, is the latest in a series looking at what influence regulators have on the behaviour of the professionals they register. Conducted by Dr Simon Christmas and Professor Alan Cribb, this study confirms that a strong professional identity benefits patient care, but that regulation’s role is less clear-cut.

The qualitative research follows on from our earlier literature review. Sixteen in-depth interviews were carried out with practitioners on statutory registers, accredited registers and a voluntary register, working in community and private settings in the UK. Dr Christmas said:

“We were keen to move away from the usual focus on doctors as an archetypal healthcare profession, and nurses as an archetypal ‘other’, so deliberately chose pharmacists, physiotherapists, psychotherapists and acupuncturists.”

The research found that practitioners can gain validation of their own professional identity through a common body and the standards they need to adhere to. Christmas and Cribb also found that professionals’ perception of statutory regulation can provide identity benefits. These benefits were often described in practical terms by practitioners. Some of these advantages can be shared by accredited registers too.

Christine Braithwaite, Director of Standards and Policy, comments:

“These fascinating interviews and penetrating analysis offer regulators valuable insight into the minds and motivations of healthcare professionals and their effect on patient safety.”

Our next paper will seek to draw out the implications of these two studies for regulatory policy.

The report is available on our website or see our infographic summary.


Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care


Christine Braithwaite, Director Standards and Policy
Reception: 020 7389 8030

Notes to the Editor

  1. Professor Alan Cribb is Professor of Bioethics and Education at King’s College London; Dr Simon Christmas is a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Policy Research at King’s College London.
  2. The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (previously known as the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence) oversees nine statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK.
  3. We assess their performance and report to Parliament. We also conduct audits and investigations and can appeal fitness to practise cases to the courts if we consider that sanctions are insufficient to protect the public and it is in the public interest.
  4. The Standards of Good Regulation are the tool that we use to assess regulators’ performance.
  5. We also set standards for organisations holding voluntary registers for health and social care occupations and accredit those that meet them.
  6. We share good practice and knowledge, conduct research and introduce new ideas to our sector. We monitor policy developments in the UK and internationally and provide advice on issues relating to professional standards in health and social care.
  7. We do this to promote the health, safety and wellbeing of users of health and social care services and the public. We are an independent body, accountable to the UK Parliament.
  8. Our values are at the heart of who we are and what we do. We are committed to being impartial, fair, accessible and consistent in the application of our values.
  9. More information about our work and the approach we take is available at