The Law Commission Consultation: Regulation of Healthcare ProfessionalsNick Austen
Listing the regulatory bodies whose legal frameworks are the subject of its review, the Law Commission states that “A complex legislative landscape has evolved on a piecemeal basis resulting in a wide range of idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies in the powers, duties and responsibilities of each of the regulators.”
In light of this, in principle we support the Law Commission’s proposal to introduce a single legal framework for regulating healthcare professionals in the UK, including pharmacists currently regulated by the GPhC. Any measured approach to bring about improvements in patient safety through performance of pharmacists, coupled with reduced red-tape, is to be welcomed.
From our perspective, one of the main conceptual issues that we think needs further thought is whether the Law Commission has got right the degree of emphasis on consistency between the various regulators (bearing in mind the quotation from the summary report, above). The Law Commission favours granting more discretion to the bodies and their approach to regulation, albeit imposing consistency where this “is necessary for the public interest”. Does this mean there will be increased inconsistency in approach (and effectiveness)? If so, we question how that would support public confidence. Does that also mean that patient health and wellbeing are paramount concerns or not? We think that it might have been better to see this principle phrased from the perspective of the patient. The Law Commission clearly believes so as this principle is the theme of paragraph 13 of its summary report.
A linked issue is that of the role of the central regulator, The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which scrutinises and oversees the work of the regulatory bodies. The GPhC does not support proposals for the CHRE to take on additional responsibilities for scrutiny. This approach needs careful communication to patient groups to avoid possible criticism that the GPhC is avoiding independent oversight. We think that this issue has the potential to cause some considerable difficulty in ensuring that the principle of credible patient-focussed healthcare reform is successfully broadcast.
There is an argument that can be made from the pharmacists’ point of view that now is not the time to be changing the regulatory framework within the industry and we think that this may be a real issue for the industry:
(i) The GPhC is only in its second year as the new regulatory body for pharmacy. There has been a concerted effort by it to explain its role, function and duties to pharmacists and to the public. Even if the change message is clearly communicated, there will be confusion and inevitably a loss of confidence by the public in the profession (and a loss of morale within it).
(ii) Compliance changes usually result in increased costs, both direct (registration and notification fees and the like) and also management time. In the backdrop of a challenging economic environment and pressure on dispensing income, it is hard to see much support for another period of change from the economic perspective. The RPS also makes this point strongly in its response note of 6 June 2012.
We await other responses to the Consultation with interest.
For more information on the above or any other Healthcare matters, please contact 01732 224000.
The material in this note has been written for the purpose of giving a general overview of the law in this area and is not intended to be relied upon as specific advice.