Press Round-Up: Regulatory and Professional Discipline – February - March 2015

31 March 2015

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

  • The HCPC welcomed the publication of the Department of Health’s new report on culture change in the NHS which was published on 11 February 2015. The report outlines progress made across the health system following Sir Robert Francis QC’s report into the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and is available from the HCPC website.
  • On 13 February 2015, the HCPC responded to the Department of Health’s decision on future funding of the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). Following a consultation, the Department of Health recently announced that the funding will be calculated on registrant numbers. The HCPC has expressed its disappointment with the decision which will mean reconsideration of the HCPC registration fees in the short term. The HCPC is the second largest regulator by registrant numbers but has the lowest registration fee of all UK regulators of health and care professionals overseen by the PSA. The HCPC position statement is available on their website.

General Medical Council (GMC)

  • The independent whistleblowers review by Sir Anthony Hooper published its report on 19 March 2015.

    The report recommended that, where organisations refer concerns about a doctor’s fitness to practise to the GMC, they should declare whether the doctor has raised concerns about patient safety. The review highlighted evidence that individuals who raise concerns may suffer, or believe that they suffer, reprisals from their employer or colleagues.

    Sir Hooper has proposed a series of recommendations for GMC investigations to ensure that individuals do not fear reprisal as a result of whistleblowing.
  • Changes to the Medical Act will allow the GMC a right of appeal against fitness to practise tribunal decisions where they are considered too lenient and do not protect the public.

    The amendments will also affect a number of changes to the handling of complaints against doctors. This includes providing tribunals with a power to award costs against the GMC or the doctor if they behave unreasonably or fail to comply with directions. A consultation on new and amended rules required to implement changes to the law is running from 25 March to 20 May 2015 and is available to view on the GMC website. The results of the consultation will be published in summer 2015 and presented to Parliament for approval.
  • Independent research published on 13 March concludes that GMC decisions are fair to doctors under investigation. The research considered 187 randomly selected cases during varying stages of GMC investigation.

    Key findings include:
    • The decisions reached by GMC staff in all 187 reviewed fitness to practise case files were found to be appropriate and in line with the guidance and criteria set out for decision-makers;
    • There was no evidence of bias or discriminatory practice either in the wording of the  GMC’s guidance and criteria documentation for decision-makers, or the sampled case files that might explain differences in outcomes for certain groups of doctors;
    • The research found that in some cases the decisions made by case examiners were not as a fully reasoned as they could be, although the decisions themselves appeared appropriate for the circumstances of the case.
  • On 5 March the GMC published a new report highlighting the circumstances where bullying and undermining of doctors in training is most likely. Obstetrics and gynaecology, and surgery were the focus of the review as these specialities were identified as among those having the most issues with bullying and undermining.

    Going forward, the GMC will include questions in its annual national training survey (NTS) in relation to whether doctors are valued and supported and report on this. The survey is now open until 6 May 2015 to all doctors in foundation and specialty training programmes.

General Dental Council (GDC)

  • The GDC appeared before the Health Select Committee on 11 March to discuss work to improve the GDC’s fitness to practise processes, the reasons behind the annual retention fee for dentists in 2015 and benefits expected from future legislative change.  The written submission to the Health Select Committee is available on the GDC website.
  • The GDC has welcomed the independent review led by Sir Robert Francis QC of whistleblowing in the NHS, “Freedom to Speak Up”. The review offers advice and recommendations to enable NHS staff to feel safe to raise concerns. The GDC will use the findings of this research to develop guidance to support dental professionals.

General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)

  • A report into the quality of the education and training of pharmacy technicians has been published by the GPhC. It represents the first comprehensive study into the quality of education and training since the profession became regulated in 2010. The report’s findings show that the majority of registrants were positive about their experience. Key differences were noted between training in community pharmacies versus hospital based pharmacies. Respondents who trained in hospital reported “higher agreement levels” than community trained respondents. The report will be used to review the pharmacy technician education standards in the coming months.
  • On 23 February 2015, the GPhC published an update paper on pharmacy regulation entitled “Modernising Pharmacy Regulation: from prototype to implementation”. The paper focuses on advancements on modernising pharmacy regulation and areas where the prototype inspection model may be adapted. The GPhC will formally consult on a prototype model once government legislation is put before parliament.
  • On 12 February 2015, the GPhC welcomed the Department of Health consultation on important proposals which will place the publication of inspection reports on a statutory footing and move towards a new method of regulating registered pharmacies. The GPhC will prepare a formal response to this consultation.
  • The GPhC has launched a consultation on proposed fee levels for 2016. The proposals include increasing the annual renewal fee for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians by £10.

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

  • The SRA has published its Risk Outlook Spring Update together with a report on balancing duties in litigation which considers integrity and ethics when balancing duties to clients, the court, third parties and the wider public interest. The update and accompanying paper can be used by firms to inform their own risk management.

    The update reveals:
    • a record number of reports of bogus firms in 2014;
    • 69 percent of UK companies hit by cybercrime;
    • scrutiny over firm accounts used for client banking;
    • lack of a diverse and representative profession; and
    • standard of service to consumers.
  • Following a 12-week consultation, the SRA has approved its Competence Statement for solicitors. The statement defines the standards expected of solicitors on qualification and the steps required to maintain these standards. The statement will be published on the SRA website in early April 2015 and will include three sections: the Competence Statement, the Statement of Knowledge and the Threshold Standard. A further consultation will take place later this year to consider the assessment framework to be implemented for the Competence Statement.
  • Following a consultation on the issue, the SRA agreed that it would no longer regulate solicitors who act as insolvency practitioners on the basis that such work is not central to the work of a solicitor. The change will take effect from 1 November 2015.

    There are currently 129 solicitors operating as insolvency practitioners. A total of 17 written responses to the consultation were received and insolvency practitioners had opposed the proposal. The SRA are of the view that consumers will be better protected if these solicitors were regulated by organisations identified in the Insolvency Service.

Bar Standards Board (BSB)

  • On 24 March, the BSB published the minimum terms of the professional indemnity insurance it requires BSB-regulated businesses to have in place. The BSB confirmed that the minimum level of cover must be £500,000 per claim. Businesses must also ensure that they put in place adequate insurance for the specific nature of their work in order to protect their clients should something go wrong. There will be a strictly enforced 21 day period from the date on which BSB confirms authorisation as a business and the deadline for providing the regulator with evidence that the appropriate insurance is in place. Businesses will not be able to practise until the insurance is in place. Barristers with professional indemnity insurance in place, covering practice as a self-employed barrister, can continue to practise in this capacity whilst they are waiting for entity insurance cover.
  • On 23 March, the BSB formally requested that Queen’s Counsel Appointments (QCA) look at designing a system for re-accrediting criminal skills. This move follows on from BSB’s January board meeting discussion on ways in which to protect the public from poor standards of advocacy. If accepted, the QCA would play a role in the on-going quality assurance of QCs and the design of the system would be at the discretion of the QCA.

*all information correct at time of publication and can be found on the individual regulator’s websites.

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