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Radical rethink needed to improve safety in health and social care

New report launched by Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care

In a report launched today in Parliament, the Professional Standards Authority has highlighted some of the biggest challenges affecting the quality and safety of health and social care across the UK today and put forward its recommendations to ensure safer care for all.

The main recommendation in Safer care for all – solutions from professional regulation and beyond is the appointment of an independent Health and Social Care Safety Commissioner (or equivalent) for each UK country. These commissioners would identify current, emerging, and potential risks across the whole health and social care system, and bring about the necessary action across organisations.

The report goes on to consider four important themes:

  1. Tackling inequalities
  2. Regulating for new risks
  3. Facing up to the workforce crisis
  4. Accountability, fear and public safety

Safer care for all - solutions from professional regulation and beyond describes a ‘fragmented and complex’ patient and service user safety framework and calls for action to address the safety issues, asking ‘Are patients and service users safer now than they were at the turn of the millennium?’

It recommends action by other bodies, including regulators and governments, but also commits the Authority to helping bring about solutions. As part of this, the Authority will be hosting a conference in November with key stakeholders to discuss the issues raised in the report and continue the call for action.

Caroline Corby, Chair of the Professional Standards Authority, said:

‘In its twentieth year, the Authority is publishing a call to action for us all to work to address some of the major outstanding safety concerns for health and social care.

‘The upcoming reforms to the powers and governance of the healthcare professional regulators will help but won’t fully solve these complex problems.

‘Professional regulation is just one part of the picture. We want to work with governments and all bodies across health and social care to tackle the big issues we describe in the report.’

Alan Clamp, Chief Executive of the Professional Standards Authority said:

‘We know from the findings of recent healthcare inquiries and reviews that major issues remain in the safety and quality of care.

‘In this report we make recommendations to tackle gaps in the safety framework. We are committed to playing our part alongside others to work towards safer care for all.’  

Our calls to action

  • There should be a Health and Social Care Safety Commissioner for each UK country spanning public and private provision and independent of governments. They should oversee the patient and service user safety system and identify gaps in public protection and assist in finding ways to address them.
  • There are persistent, major inequalities in access to and experience of healthcare services. To help tackle this, the system as a whole needs to improve the way it collects data about the protected characteristics of complainants, so that we can see start to identify any differences in how care is delivered, and how complaints are handled.
  • The way health and care are funded and delivered is changing. There is an increase in ‘high street’ provision and the use of technology; disrupting factors, such as commercial and financial interests, can interfere with professional judgement, and put patients at risk. Governments and regulators must be ahead of the curve as delivery changes, to identify emerging risks and protect the public. They should use the current reforms to healthcare professional regulators to ensure they have the agility to address new challenges.
  • The UK is facing a serious workforce shortage in health and social care, which must be addressed to avoid services suffering and patients and service users being at risk from harm. The four UK governments should work together to develop a coherent strategy for the regulation of professionals, to support delivery of the national workforce strategies.
  • Individual accountability plays a key role in keeping people safe in health and care. At the Professional Standards Authority, we have concerns about the safe spaces approach in England (where the law may prevent the disclosure of information that staff provide to safety investigations). The UK government should ensure that this approach does not undermine existing public protection mechanisms or reduce transparency when things have gone wrong.


Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care
Contact: Christine Braithwaite, Director of Standards and Policy


Notes to the Editor

  1. The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care oversees 10 statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK.
  2. 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.
  3. We also set standards for organisations holding voluntary registers for health and social care occupations and accredit those that meet them.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Our values are – integrity, transparency, respect, fairness and teamwork – and we strive to ensure that they are at the core of our work.
  7. More information about our work and the approach we take is available at