On 21 May 2014 the Authority wrote to the Department of Health with recommendations to improve the Law Commissions’ draft Regulation of Health and Social Care Professions etc Bill.
The Law Commissions’ simplification review was commissioned in the context of Enabling Excellence (2011), which described the Coalition Government’s policy on the regulation of health and social care professionals. Enabling Excellence stated that regulators should be given ‘greater autonomy… to decide how best to meet their statutory duties.’ Such flexibility would ‘need to be balanced by a commensurate strengthening of their public and parliamentary accountability for their performance’ (paras 3.6 and 3.8).
The Law Commissions’ simplification review and Enabling Excellence are the most recent steps on a long journey of reform of professional regulation.
Important themes of transparency and accountability recur through recent reports into health and care service failings, most notably the Francis Report published in 2013. This report also stressed the need for a common culture across the health and care system that put patients first, ensuring openness, transparency and candour throughout the system about matters of concern, and a proper degree of accountability. Since the Francis Report was published the need to regain and sustain the public’s confidence in regulation has become more urgent and steps are being taken by the government and regulators to do this.
The Law Commissions’ simplification review was anticipated in this context, as the long-awaited next step in a programme of modernisation and reform for health professional regulation in the UK and social work professional regulation in England. The terms of reference encompassed the need for greater autonomy and prevailing government policy as outlined in Trust, Assurance and Safety and Enabling Excellence, and the much-needed common legislative framework for the momentum established by those earlier policy statements.
This paper outlines the Professional Standards Authority’s recommendations to the Department of Health to change the draft bill published by the Law Commissions (April 2014). We make these recommendations in the interests of best practice in regulation, as described by the Better Regulation Executive’s principles of good regulation, right-touch regulation, and the Authority’s standards of good regulation.
Our concerns are prompted by our assessment that the provisions as drafted would not enable consistency in meeting our standards of good regulation and that some of them run counter to good practice. They are informed by the policy context within which the review was commissioned by the Department of Health, which we describe in more detail.
It is our view that these improvements are essential if the revised legislative framework is to accurately reflect government policy and allow flexibility across health and care professional regulation to meet the needs of the future.