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Changes to professional regulation will benefit doctors and patients

Regulators will be able to resolve fitness to practise cases without need for a full panel hearing where appropriate

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 09 July 2019

The government has promised changes to professional regulation that will mean health professionals are better supported, as well as delivering modern and efficient fitness to practise processes and more responsive and accountable regulation. It revealed this morning that the most significant change will enable regulators to resolve fitness to practise cases without the need for a full panel hearing, where this is appropriate – and overall, the process will be more collaborative and less adversarial, more efficient and less bureaucratic. The General Medical Council (GMC) welcomed this morning’s announcement, but also insisted that regulation must also be “agile enough to adapt and respond to changing future demands”.

The Department of Health and Social Care this morning published its response to its long-running consultation on Promoting professionalism, reforming regulation. This concluded that professional regulation for healthcare professionals in the UK “has become increasingly complex, outdated and is seen as adversarial and legalistic” making it “difficult for regulators to be responsive to the changing needs of the healthcare environment, to support the development of a flexible workforce and to protect the public in the most effective way”.


In response, it has set out its proposals that it said will make professional regulation faster, simpler and more responsive to the needs of patients, professionals, the public and employers; and promised that it will take forward legislative changes to fitness to practise processes and operating framework that “will realise the greatest benefits for regulatory bodies, registrants and the public”. These include:

  • Give the regulatory bodies broadly consistent powers to handle fitness to practise cases in a more responsive and proportionate manner – so they will be concluded quickly, proportionately and fairly, replacing the current bureaucratic, time-consuming processes that are burdensome and can be stressful for patients, their families, registrants and employers. The most significant change will enable regulators to resolve fitness to practise cases without the need for a full panel hearing where it is appropriate to do so.
  • Removal of the GMC’s right to appeal decisions of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) to the High Court. The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) will have the sole right of appeal against such fitness to practise decisions, as is the case for the other eight regulatory bodies; and modification of the GMC’s powers to require information from registrants for the purposes of fitness to practise procedures so that it excludes reflective practice material.
  • Strong governance of the regulators themselves – moving from self-regulation towards a modern governance structure.

The Department said in its report: “At the heart of these changes is the much-needed modernisation of fitness to practise processes. All of the regulatory bodies will be given a full range of powers to investigate and resolve complaints about their registrant’s fitness to practise more quickly, providing early resolution for patients, families and professionals, and ensuring that the steps necessary to protect the public are put in place sooner. The process will be more collaborative and less adversarial, more efficient and less bureaucratic.”

It added that the changes should give regulators the capacity to invest more of their resources in supporting the professionalism of all registrants.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey commented: “We welcome this long-awaited report and its emphasis on greater flexibility and autonomy for regulators. As the health and social care system grapples with building a sustainable workforce, regulation must be agile enough to adapt and respond to changing future demands rather than confined by an approach determined only by today’s challenges.

“It has now been seven years since government first consulted on legislative reform. We look forward to a fully formed plan for taking those changes forward.”

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