Press Round-Up: Regulatory and Professional Discipline – October - November 2015

7 December 2015

NB: All information correct at time of publication and can be found on the individual regulator’s websites.

Bar Standards Board (BSB)

  • New Governance Structure – the BSB has introduced a new governance structure which will be effective in the next few months. The purpose is to ensure that there is a clear distinction between policy-making and decision-making on individual cases and to ensure that all policy development is undertaken by the executive staff and directly overseen by the Board itself.  The BSB considers that the changes will further strengthen public confidence in the independence of this regulator and its ability to regulate the barrister profession. The changes will mean that decisions currently reserved at Committee level will be devolved to trained professional staff in order to speed up case work and policy development and to enable the BSB to respond to new regulatory demands.  The changes will be implemented in stages and will be reviewed as the new governance arrangements take effect.
  • Report highlights mixed advocacy standards in youth court proceedings – The Youth Proceedings Advocacy Review report published on 19 November 2015 highlights the damaging effects that poor advocacy can have on access to justice for young and often very vulnerable offenders and their perceptions of the justice system.  The overriding view of those who participated within the research was that standards of advocacy were not at the level that the public would expect.  The report also made recommendations in relation to more wider concerns identified in relation to the youth justice system, for example the highly formal and adversarial nature of court proceedings which was found to impede effective participation by young people.

Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)

  • Views sought on proposed changes to the FCA’s rules and guidance - In April 2016, the Government will introduce the Innovative Finance ISA (IFISA). This will allow for peer-to-peer (P2P) agreements to be included within an ISA tax wrapper. Additionally, the Government intends to make advising on P2P agreements a regulated activity.The FCA is seeking views on updates it is planning to make to its rules and guidance on disclosure and advice relating to P2P agreements.

General Dental Council (GDC)

  • New powers to streamline the investigation of complaints – The Department of Health have announced new powers which will enable changes to be made to the way the GDC carries out its Fitness to Practise proceedings. The new powers are designed to improve the efficiency of the fitness to practise process, enabling swifter investigation of complaints. The new arrangements will come into effect in April 2016 and will mean that the GDC are able to appoint case examiners with powers to decide cases at an earlier stage in the process. The case examiners will also be able to agree undertakings with dental professionals who are under investigation where this is proportionate and consistent with public protection. Other measures include a power to review a closed case where it is in the public interest, where the decision may be flawed or where new information comes to light.
  • Consultation on English language checks for dental professionals – the GDC has launched a consultation on a draft policy to ensure dental professionals have the necessary knowledge of the English language.  The consultation is open until 4 January 2016 and the GDC are seeking view on the following areas;
    • The information the GDC will accept as evidence that an applicant has the necessary knowledge of English;
    • The use of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam to assess whether an applicant has the necessary knowledge of English; and
    • Whether the draft guidance should be applied to all applicants, including those who have trained and qualified from within the European Economic Area (EEA) and those who have trained from outside the EEA (non-EEA).

General Medical Council (GMC)

  • New draft guidance on a doctor’s duty to disclose information to the DVLA or DVA – new draft guidance from the GMC emphasises a doctor’s duty to disclose information to the DVLA or DVA where the patient has failed to contact the DVLA/DVA and should not be driving. This guidance is part of a public consultation on the GMC’s core guidance on confidentiality which aims to offer greater clarity to doctors. The consultation on Confidentiality, including reporting concerns to the DVLA, will run from 25 November 2015 to 10 February 2016. The GMC have also launched a short questionnaire to gather the views of patients and doctors. Both documents are available on the GMC’s website.
  • ‘European Professional card’ - from January 2016, a new ‘European professional card’ will be introduced for many health professionals which means that the UK will be reliant on regulators in other European countries to make sure those coming to work here have the correct documents and qualifications. The card will apply initially to nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists but it is expected to be applied to doctors from 2018. The GMC – and many other European regulators – believe this could further weaken their ability to check that the doctors coming here are safe to practise.  The GMC has called for a full investigation into the impact of the card system before it is extended to doctors and to include patient safety in its negotiations over the UK’s rile in the European Union.
  • Initiative to improve safety for patients having cosmetic surgery – the Royal College of Surgeons has published new information to help surgeons and hospitals prepare for changes aimed at improving the standard of care in cosmetic surgery. From mid-2016, surgeons will be able to apply for certification to show they are qualified and competent to perform specific procedures in relation to cosmetic surgery.

General Optical Council (GOC)

  • New Standards of Practice – the GOC has published its new Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians, and separate new Standards for Optical Students, which will come into effect from 1 April 2016. The GOC is also updating its Code of Conduct for business registrants to make clear that businesses should support their employees in meeting their obligations under the new Standards.

General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)

  • Joint Statement on supporting patients to make informed decisions – the GPhC has published a joint statement with the General Medical Council and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland in response to claims that patients have been inappropriately influenced by health professionals when making decisions about where to access services, for example flu vaccinations. The statement makes clear that pharmacy professionals and doctors have a duty to support informed decision making by patients and ensure that they do not inappropriately influence patients’ choices.

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

  • Consultation on revised guidance on conduct and ethics for students – the HCPC has launched a consultation on draft revised guidance on conduct and ethics for students. It is aimed at students on approved education and training programmes, registrants, education providers, practice placement providers, employers, professional bodies and people using the services of registrants or students.  The consultation runs until 29 January 2016 and it is expected that the guidance will be published for the start of the academic year 2016 – 2017.

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)

  • Confirmation that England is ready for revalidation – the NMC have received confirmation from the Department of Health that England is ready for the implementation of revalidation for nurses and midwives, as planned from April 2016.  This comes following the decision of the NMC on 8 October 2015 to introduce revalidation for all nurses and midwives in the UK. Nearly 16,000 nurses and midwives will be the first to revalidate in April 2016. All 685,000 nurses and midwives on the NMC’s register will go through the new process as their registration becomes due for renewal over the course of the next three years.

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

  • ‘A question of Trust’ Campaign – the SRA are running a national campaign called ‘a Question of Trust’ to explore solicitors’ professional values and standards and what they mean in practice. As part of this campaign, the SRA are holding a number of events and open voting sessions for members of the public.  Attendees will use interactive voting equipment to give their feedback on the issues raised. The cases all explore issues of trust, professional standards and applying good regulation, such as being convicted of drink-driving, failing to keep client information confidential, using a client's money without authority or amending a will. The campaign runs until the end of January 2016.
  • Consumer credit regulations - The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has approved changes to the SRA’s rules that will allow solicitors to carry out certain consumer credit activities under the SRA’s authorisation where those activities are central to the legal services provided. The new approach would mean the majority of firms will not have to be regulated by both the SRA and the FCA, reducing the burden on them while client protection remains in place. The proposal now needs final approval from the Legal Services Board.
  • Guidance on pro bono work – the SRA is to publish new guidance to clarify the decisions solicitors have to make when considering pro bono engagements. This follows uncertainty expressed by some in-house solicitors about the requirement on them when carrying out voluntary work.  The SRA has stressed that simplicity, not further regulation, is the answer to questions around solicitors carrying out pro bono.

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