At present, “in many cases”, regulators need to seek legislative changes to update their practices, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said in a consultation document yesterday (March 24).
This is a “lengthy process” and might delay their response to new circumstances – such as the “recent COVID-19 emergency”, according to the DH.
“We are proposing to devolve many of the decisions about day-to-day procedures to the regulators themselves, while ensuring that they continue to meet their overarching objective to protect the public,” the DH added.
Under the plans, regulators would receive “similar governance and operating framework” that would allow them to establish their procedures without the need for parliament or Privy Council approval, according to the consultation document.
The DH recognises that giving more responsibility to regulators on their daily activities “poses a risk that different bodies may take different approaches”.
However, it said it would expect regulators to “work together to develop a common framework of governance and operating rules” and proposed the introduction of a “duty to cooperate” with other regulators.
Commenting on this proposal, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) CEO Duncan Rudkin said that the 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”.
GPhC to respond to Privy Council
While all regulators are accountable to the Privy Council – which is responsible for the approval of rules for some healthcare regulators – its powers to “direct” regulators when they fail to meet their objectives do not extend to the GPhC.
The DH said that these powers have never been used before, but they “provide a mechanism to ensure public protection”. For this reason, it argued that they should also apply to the GPhC.
Mr Rudkin said the GPhC supports “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”.
Variation in fitness to practise powers
The DH also proposed changes to enable the resolution of fitness to practise cases “more quickly”.
“There is considerable variation in the fitness to practise powers currently available to the regulators,” it said.
Through the changes put forward by the DH, the regulators would be allowed to close more cases “earlier through accepted outcome decisions made by case examiners, and through a broader range of measures”.
These changes will make the fitness to practice process “less adversarial” and help reduce the need for a fitness to practise hearing, the DH added.
The Professional Standards Authority – which oversees 10 statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK – questioned the GPhC’s fitness to practise processes and in particular “the timeliness of the investigations being conducted” by the GPhC in a review of the regulator it published last year.
The GPhC sought to understand how to better manage concerns raised against pharmacy professionals through a consultation it launched in October 2020. As part of this work, the regulator was seeking to understand “why it receives a higher number of concerns about BAME professionals than should be expected”.
The DH’s consultation is open until June 16.