Two bites of the apple- limitation in professional negligence cases
On 27 June 2013 the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) (formerly the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence) published its Annual Report and Accounts and Performance Review Report 2012-2013, which had been presented to Parliament. The PSA’s statutory powers of oversight of the regulators¹ and their fitness to practise procedures is the primary means by which the PSA seek to achieve their stated aim of promoting the health, safety and well-being of patients, service users and other members of the public.
The three major changes for the PSA in the preceding year, namely acquiring oversight of the regulation of social workers, advising the Privy Council on appointments to the regulator’s councils and the accreditation scheme for voluntary occupational registers, were said to have been ‘implemented effectively and on time’.
It has seemingly been a busy year for the PSA, not least because the regulators have continued to see a rise in complaints; the number of cases reviewed in the 12 month period covered by the Report is 2,738 (more than double the number 5 years ago).
Of the 2738 cases received by the PSA this year, 1932 were closed with no requirement for more information. Additional information was sought and considered in 377 cases. In 328 of all cases received, the PSA identified learning points to be fed back to the regulators. This is a decrease from the previous year. Their court referrals² have dropped from 1 in 10 in 2005/6 to fewer than 1 in 600 in 2011/12. Only three cases were referred to court in the past year. It is interesting to note that the PSA have asked the Law Commission to consider whether registrants should be required to be held on a register during the Authority’s appeal process.
With regard to voluntary registers, formal applications for accreditation started to be received on 3 December 2012. So far, the voluntary registers of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the British Acupuncture Council, Play Therapy UK, the National Counselling Society and the National Hypnotherapy Society have been accredited by the Authority.
In a year that has seen a number of challenges to professional regulation and with the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry highlighting failures at all levels, the PSA was pleased to report that ‘overall the regulators are performing well against the Standards of Good regulation and are fulfilling their statutory responsibilities.’ However, it is said that ‘not all regulators meet all the standards and in some cases this has implications for patient protection’.
They identified 3 regulators (the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), General Dental Council (GDC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)) which do not meet one or more of the Standards of Good Regulation. These three regulators were not able to demonstrate that fitness to practise cases were being dealt with as quickly as possible (taking into account the complexity and type of case and conduct on both sides). The NMC and the GCC were not able to show that parties were consistently kept up to date on the progress of their cases and supported to participate effectively in the FTP process. Further, the NMC was not able to demonstrate that information about FTP cases was being securely retained and its confidentiality protected.
The above is a brief summary of what is, unsurprisingly, a voluminous and detailed document. It is an interesting read for those involved in healthcare regulation, not least because it highlights the different policies and initiatives that different regulators are implementing to achieve their goals and the various obstacles that have crossed their path.
¹ General Chiropractic Council (GCC), General Dental Council (GDC), General Medical Council (GMC), General Optical Council (GOC), General Osteopathic Council (GOsC), General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), Health and Care Professions Council 9HCPC), Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
² Under section 29 of the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002 where cases are considered ‘unduly lenient’
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