Press Round-Up: Regulatory and Professional Discipline February 2021 - March 2021

12 April 2021

Finance

Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)

On 2 February 2021 the FCA released the Woolard Review, a report that details how regulation can better support a healthy market for unsecured lending, taking into account the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, changing business models and new developments in unregulated buy-now pay-later (BNPL) unsecured lending.

Christopher Woolard, Chair of the Review, said:

‘Most of us will use credit at some point in our lives. So, it’s vital that we have a fair market that works for everyone. New ways of borrowing and the impact of the pandemic are changing the market, with billions of pounds now in unregulated transactions and millions of consumers at greater risk of financial difficulty.

‘Changes are urgently needed: to bring BNPL into regulation to protect consumers; to ensure that there is secure provision of debt advice to help all those who may need it; and to maintain a sustained regulatory response to the pandemic.

‘Alongside these urgent issues the Review sets out a series of recommendations for how the FCA, working with partners, can build a better market in future.’

It is anticipated that the FCA will publish its 2021/22 Business Plan in April, at which time further details of their response to the Review will be provided.

Charles Randell, Chair at the FCA, said:

 ‘Regulation should be consistent and the Review shows how we can ensure high standards in consumer credit regardless of the form of credit.

The full press release, including a link to the published report, can be found here.

 

Financial Reporting Council (FRC)

On 23 March 2021, the FRC launched a revised Practice Note 14 (PN 14) (Revised March 2021) The Audit of Housing Associations in the United Kingdom. The key revisions include:

  • Updating of the material relating to devolved regulatory regimes and the inclusion of links to key locations on regulator’s websites where auditors can seek additional guidance.
  • Updating of the key business risks affecting housing associations, including the inclusion of new risks and the re-ordering of existing risks.
  • Updating of ISA (UK) specific guidance to ensure it remains fit for purpose and provides helpful guidance to auditors of housing associations. This includes providing new guidance in relation to requirements found in ISA (UK) 570 and ISA (UK) 720.

Full details can be found here.

On 25 March 2021 the FRC published a new report, ‘Our Approach to Audit Supervision’, which sets out what firms can expect from the FRC in the course of supervision with a focus on audit quality and firm resilience. The full report can be accessed here.

 

Healthcare

Care Quality Commission (CQC)

On 26 January 2021, the CQC launched a consultation on changes for flexible regulation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The consultation closed on 25 March 2021 and it is anticipated that the results will be published in the coming months.

On 11 March 2021, the CQC published their updated guidance on meeting the duty of candour with reference to Regulation 20 of their guidance for providers. The updated guidance provides more specific explanation of what is defined as a notifiable safety incident, examples by way of a range of scenarios, and makes it clear that the apology required to fulfil the duty of candour does not mean accepting liability and will not affect a provider’s indemnity cover. Full details can be found here.

On 23 March 2021 the CQC published two new reports. The first is the ‘Covid-19 Insight: Issue 9’, which can be found here. This examines the impact of the pandemic on urgent and emergency care services and pharmacy services in NHS Trusts. The second is a ‘Provide collaboration review: Urgent and Emergency care’, which can be found here. This examined urgent and emergency care in eight areas of England in October 2020 and found significant problems of access and capacity in these services. It identified the following five areas of learning:

  1. Ensuring access
  2. Tackling inequalities
  3. Governance and shared planning
  4. Safety and staff skills
  5. Use of technology.

On 24 March 2021, the CQC issued an update on their regulatory approach, taking into account the latest published reports. This set out additional activities the organisation will be undertaking from April 2021, which include, amongst other matters:

  • conduct Mental Health Act (MHA) monitoring visits to ensure the rights of vulnerable people are protected;
  • carry out focused inspection activity in emergency departments where our data monitoring and local intelligence indicates that increased pressure is having a direct impact on the quality and safety of care;
  • roll out a programme of focused inspections of safety in NHS maternity services where data and local intelligence identifies concerns about the quality of care; these inspections will look closely at issues such as team-working and culture, and experiences of staff and patients;
  • continue to prioritise registration applications that are critical to the COVID-19 response; and
  • focus on improving registration service so providers experience a faster and more efficient process.

Full details can be found here.

 

General Dental Council (GDC)

On 12 February 2021, the GDC issued a response to the Department of Health and Social Care White Paper ‘Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all’, in which support was expressed for the creation of new powers for the Secretary of State to remove professions from regulation and abolish individual regulators as set out in the November 2020 ‘Busting bureaucracy: empowering frontline staff by reducing excess bureaucracy in the health and care system in England’ consultation outcome. The GDC welcomed the Government’s renewed commitment to regulatory reform and reiterated the need for legislative change to support their work. The GDC’s response can be found here and the White Paper can be found here.

 

General Medical Council (GMC)

On 18 February 2021 the GMC published updated guidance on prescribing, to support doctors who are increasingly seeing patients via remote and virtual consultations. This will take effect from 5 April 2021. Key updates include:

  • new advice for doctors not to prescribe controlled drugs unless they have access to patient records, except in emergencies;
  • stronger advice on information sharing, making it clear that if a patient refuses consent to share information with other relevant health professionals it may be unsafe to prescribe; and
  • alignment with the GMC’s updated Decision making and consent guidance, highlighting the importance of good two-way dialogue between patients and doctors in all settings.

Professor Colin Melville, Medical Director and Director of Education and Standards at the GMC, said:

"Our updated guidance supports doctors who are navigating what for many has become a new reality of remote medicine, helping them to maintain good patient care in these incredibly challenging circumstances. It’s vital that the principles of good practice apply, whether a consultation is face to face or remote."

The press release can be found here.

In March 2021 the PSA released their GMC Performance Review for 2019/20, in which the GMC met all 18 of the Standards of Good Regulation. Charlie Massey, GMC Chief Executive said:

‘Good regulation is crucial at a time when doctors are under tremendous pressure caring for patients. It’s pleasing to see our work recognised as we continue to act to promote patient safety and support hard-working professionals. I’m extremely grateful to all of my colleagues for their hard work despite often working in very difficult circumstances.’

‘The impact of this pandemic will last for many years. The GMC is supporting recovery in the NHS, and is working with other healthcare bodies to make sure that we also embrace any opportunities that will help meet the demands of modern patient care.

‘Our vision is rooted in the people we work with and for. We will be an effective, relevant and compassionate regulator for patients, the public and professionals, and as an employer.’

The PSA’s report can be accessed here.

On 25 March 2021 Charlie Massey issued a comment on the Department of Health and Social Care’s public consultation ‘Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public’, saying:

“It’s been nearly 40 years since the legislation which underpins how we operate was passed and clearly, reform is long overdue.

“Medical practice, and expectations of care, have changed beyond recognition over the last few decades which means the need for regulation that can respond quickly and flexibly to changing environments has never been greater.

“This reform agenda gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver real change - reforms that will allow us to work with less bureaucracy, provide a wide range of resolutions delivered faster and making sure our focus is even sharper on the needs of patients, clinicians, and employers.”

The consultation can be found here and is open until 12.15am on 16 June 2021.

 

General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)

On 15 February 2021 the GPhC updated its position on supplying different types of Covid 19 tests from pharmacies in Great Britain, following their review of the guidance from Public Health England (PHE) published on 1 February 2021. The GPhC has withdrawn their instruction for pharmacies not to provide rapid/point of care/near-person antibody tests for COVID-19. Instead, pharmacy professionals are instructed to carefully consider the PHE guidance and other relevant guidance. Further, an expectation that a full risk assessment should be conducted.

The announcement can be found here and the latest updated position can be found here.

On 17 March 2021 the GPhC announced revision of their guidance on evidence of English language skills to include the Pharmacy Occupational English Language Test (OET) as evidence of English language competence. This will be an alternative to the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Individuals taking the Pharmacy OET will be required to score at least a B in each of the four areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking in English at one sitting of the test. This is equivalent to the GPhC’s current requirement for a recent pass of the academic version of IELTS with an overall score of at least 7 and with no scores less than 7 in each of the four areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking at one sitting of the test. The announcement can be found here and the revised guidance can be accessed here.

On 25 March 2021, Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, commented on the Department of Health and Social Care's public consultation ‘Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public.’ He said:

“We share the UK Government’s and Devolved Administrations’ aim of ensuring healthcare regulation is faster, fairer and more flexible. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated why we need the powers to enable us to quickly change the way we work, in response to external challenges and opportunities in and for pharmacy. And we support the proposals to strengthen the oversight of the GPhC and other regulators, to make sure we are using this flexibility appropriately on behalf of patients and members of the public.

 “We would also strongly encourage patients and the public and the pharmacy professionals and pharmacy owners we regulate to respond. The voices of patients and health professionals need to be at the heart of this consultation, to help make sure that health professional regulation is fit for the future.”

Full comments can be found here.

 

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

On 18 January 2021 the HCPC launched a consultation on revisions to their Guidance on Health and Character. The changes proposed aim to provide a succinct and understandable document which addresses the needs of applicants and Registrants and which is consistent with other guidance and policies of the HCPC. These changes include:

  • Including new case studies which deal with difficult but realistic scenarios
  • Aligning criteria for character declarations to be the same for applicants and Registrants
  • Making changes to self-referral information to reflect our online information on this topic
  • Merging the guidance with the existing Health and Character Policy
  • Separating out the guidance aimed specifically at education providers and creating a standalone document.

The consultation can be accessed here and closes on 12 April 2021.

On 21 January 2021 the HCPC unveiled their Corporate Strategy for 2021 – 2026. This sets out an approach that will ensure the very best outcomes for the public accessing key healthcare services:

  • A strong focus on public safety
  • A preventative approach to regulation
  • Locking in the lessons learned from COVID-19

John Barwick, Chief Executive and Registrar said:

‘This strategy gives HCPC a clear direction for the next five years. It has been developed with valuable contributions from our stakeholders across all of the four nations. It is underpinned by our values and a commitment to public protection and ensuring the best outcomes for users of health and care services. We are not complacent and remain focused on accelerating improvement. With this new Corporate Strategy in place, I am confident that HCPC is in a strong position to implement significant and positive changes.’

The announcement can be found here and a copy of the Corporate Strategy can be found here.

On 25 March 2021 the HCPC responded to the launch of the Government’s public consultation ‘Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public.’ John Barwick, Chief Executive and Registrar of HCPC said:

“We will be providing a full response to the consultation and look forward to working with the Government and others throughout this important process. Regulatory reform must reflect and anticipate the rapid changes taking place in health and care. Reform will enable us to ensure the highest levels of public protection and deliver better support for our registrants across the fifteen different professions we regulate.”

The full response can be found here.

 

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)

On 2 February 2021 the NMC published ‘Managing Concerns,’ a new fitness to practise resource for employers to support them when concerns are raised about a nurse, midwife or nursing associate’s practice. The resource outlines best practice principles for employers to consider when they are investigating and managing concerns locally about a nursing or midwifery professional. The resource is intended to be used alongside, and not replace, existing local guidance and policies.

Key highlights include:

  • Principles and questions for employers to consider when investigating and managing concerns about their staff.
  • Practical case scenarios to illustrate when to make a referral.
  • Updated webpage for completing online referrals, including questions asking about contextual factors to help the NMC understand what may have contributed to incidents and better consider whether we need to take action.

Full details can be found here.

On 25 March 2021, Andrea Sutcliffe CBE commented on the launch of the Government’s public consultation ‘Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public.’ She said:

"It's good news that the government is now consulting on these proposals for regulatory reform. They will help professional regulators respond more quickly and flexibly to the modern-day needs of health and care services by reducing bureaucracy, fostering a fairer culture and supporting the delivery of safe, kind and effective care.

Full comments can be found here.

On 29 March 2021 the PSA released their NMC Performance Review for 2019/20, in which the NMC received a near perfect score, meeting 17 of the 18 of the Standards of Good Regulation. The PSA highlighted that the NMC needs to do more work to improve the timeliness of fitness to practise processes. Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, Chief Executive and Registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council said:

“Today’s review of our performance from April 2019 to March 2020 pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic but emphasises some important themes that have influenced our work in the last year.  I welcome the recognition from the PSA that we had improved during that time and I agree with them that focusing on the timeliness of our fitness to practise activity is essential.”

The PSA’s report can be accessed here.

 

Legal Services

Bar Standards Board (BSB)

On 29 January 2021 the BSB published its annual report on Diversity at the Bar. The report shows that the profession became increasingly diverse in 2020 and that a greater proportion of barristers disclosed their demographic data.

Some of the key findings include:

  • At 60.9 per cent, men still outnumber women at 38.2 per cent of the practising Bar. The percentage of women at the Bar overall increased by 0.2 percentage points during the last year (or 0.4%).
  • The percentage of practising barristers from minority ethnic groups overall increased by 0.5 percentage points (or 3.7%) to 14.1 per cent, slightly exceeding the estimate of 13.3 per cent of the working age population in England and Wales.
  • Male QCs still outnumber female QCs, but the percentage of female QCs increased from 16.2 per cent in December 2019 to 16.8 per cent (0.6 percentage points or 3.7%) in December 2020.
  • The percentage of QCs from minority ethnic backgrounds has increased by 0.7 percentage points (or 8.6%) year on year to 8.8 per cent.
  • The percentage of female pupil barristers was equal to the percentage of male pupils. Although the percentage of female pupils has fallen by around four percentage points since 2019 (or 7.8%), this may be an anomaly resulting from an exceptional year in 2020.
  • The proportion of pupil barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds increased by 3.7 percentage points (or 19.4%) to 22.9 per cent in 2020. This is the highest proportion of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds, and the largest year on year increase in this statistic, seen since the first Diversity at the Bar Report in 2015.
  • Of the 56.9 per cent who provided information on disability status to us, only 6.3 per cent disclosed a disability. This is substantially lower than the percentage of disabled people in the employed working age UK population estimated at 11.3 per cent.

BSB Head of Equality and Access to Justice, Amit Popat said:

“While we are pleased to see that the Bar is increasingly diverse, there is still more work to be done to make the profession truly representative of society. As the regulator, we are committed to taking action to help achieve greater diversity.

On 19 March 2021 the BSB published its annual Business Plan for 2021-22. The Business Plan outlines how, where necessary, the BSB will temporarily put on hold some of its longer-term policy development projects in order to prioritise its core regulatory work and its analysis of the impact of the health emergency. This core work involves overseeing the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister, monitoring the standards of conduct of barristers and compliance with the rules in our Handbook, including the new transparency rules, and ensuring that everyone it authorises to practise is competent to do so.

The full announcement can be found here and the report can be accessed here.

 

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

In January 2021, the SRA announced changes to how the Higher Rights of Audience (HRA) assessments operate. From 31 January 2021, candidates will be assessed against revised criminal and civil HRA standards. From 1 April 2021 only solicitors can take the criminal and civil HR assessments. The full announcement can be found here.

On 2 February 2021, the SRA published new guidance to help combat money launderers. Published collectively by all legal services supervisors in the UK, the Legal Sector Affinity Group (LSAG) 2020 guidance provides a detailed commentary on now amended regulations (as well as the 2017 regulations) law firms need to be aware of regarding money laundering.

Juliet Oliver, SRA General Counsel, said:

'Tackling money laundering is a priority for all of us and we know the vast majority of firms are committed to keeping the proceeds of crime out of the profession. These documents offer comprehensive information on some of the better ways to achieve this.’

The LSAG guidance provides an update to previously issued material from 2018 following a thorough review of that content based on developments since then. Key changes in the new publication include:

  • Expanded guidance on understanding source of funds and source of wealth
  • A new section addressing the need for firms to understand the technology they are using in order to use it effectively
  • Clarifications on high-risk sectors, accepting cash into the client account, customer due diligence (CDD) on referrals from another legal practice, timing of CDD/exceptions
  • Discrepancy reporting to Companies House, and other relevant registries from new duty/obligations introduced from January 2020, i.e. material changes to the regulations which are reflected in the guidance.

Full details can be found here and the LSAG guidance can be accessed here.

 

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