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Reforming healthcare professional regulation

Three things to get right as part of government reform consultation

Reforms to healthcare professional regulator powers

The draft Order was laid before UK and Scottish Parliaments on 13 December 2023 and is a long-awaited step towards reform of all the regulators.

This draft legislation will give the General Medical Council (GMC) the statutory powers it needs to regulate the Anaesthesia Associate and Physician Associate professions in the UK. It will also act as the blueprint for reforms to other regulators down the line. We know that, from our work overseeing the regulators, there is an urgent need for reform.

The regulatory model set out in this Order presents distinct advantages. It grants regulators more flexibility to determine how they use their powers, and provides for a new fitness to practise model that allows more cases to be decided consensually with the registrant, outside a formal hearing.

However, we want to make sure that the right balance is struck between autonomy and accountability for the regulators. We would also like to see greater engagement with a wider range of stakeholders in the next round of reform, including patient representatives, to ensure that public protection is at the heart of regulatory reform.

We will continue to work with government on rolling out reforms and offer our continued support and expertise to DHSC colleagues as matters progress. To support this, we are developing guidance for reformed regulators, to help them implement their new powers as effectively as possible for public protection. We consulted on these draft guides between January and April 2024. We will be analysing the responses with plans to publish the guides later in the year.

Other reforms underway:

The Health and Care Act

The Health and Care Act was passed by Parliament in 2022. It is a large and wide-ranging piece of legislation, however the key elements of interest for professional regulation include new powers for the Secretary of State to: merge or abolish any of the healthcare professional regulators deregulate professional groups.

We published our view of the Government’s proposals for reform of professional regulation in the Health and Care Bill in October 2021.

The Government commissioned KPMG to carry out a review of the regulatory landscape and provide options for reconfiguration. They also consulted on introducing a new transparent process for deciding when statutory regulation is appropriate, see further details below. Government haven’t yet announced what action they intend to take in these two areas.  

Within the wider provisions of the Act is the formal establishment of integrated care systems (ICSs). ICSs are partnership organisations that bring together providers and commissioners of NHS services across a geographical area with local authorities and other local partners to plan health and care services to meet the needs of the local population. This represents a shift from the previous focus on competitive purchasing of services via Clinical Commission Groups (CCGs).

The Government also amended the legislation to commit to introduction of a licensing scheme for non-surgical cosmetics, see further details below.

Non-surgical cosmetic procedures

We have responded to the Government’s consultation on licensing of non-surgical cosmetics. we also published a briefing outlining the key points we raised in our response. These included:

  • Support for the introduction of a licensing scheme to ensure that those who choose to undergo a non-surgical cosmetic procedure can be confident that the treatment they receive is safe and of a high standard.
  • The need to ensure that the licensing scheme is simple and transparent to allow the public to easily understand requirements when choosing who to receive non-surgical cosmetic treatments from. 
  • It is important that the licensing scheme fits with existing regulatory mechanisms - the scheme should recognise and complement mechanisms such as the Accredited Registers programme which is already acting to raise standards in the area of non-surgical cosmetics.
  • A call to those seeking non-surgical cosmetic procedures to choose a practitioner on a register accredited under our Accredited Register programme until a licensing scheme is in place. 
  • Encouraging all eligible non-surgical cosmetic practitioners to join an Accredited Register to demonstrate their competence and reduce risk to the public.

Healthcare regulation: deciding when statutory regulation is appropriate

The Government consulted between 6 January-31 March 2022 on plans to introduce a new policy for deciding which groups should be regulated by law, based mainly on the risk they pose to the public.

We published a news update on the consultation announcement along with some FAQs. We submitted our formal response to the consultation welcoming the move to a transparent, risk-based approach to deciding which roles are regulated. Government hasn’t yet published its response and next steps following this consultation.