Law Commission has recommended that a single legal framework apply to the nine different bodies

The Law Commission has recommended that a single legal framework apply to the nine different bodies including the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) that regulate healthcare professionals and, in England, social workers. This would mean all existing governing legislation for these bodies gets repealed and a single Act passed replacing it. The plan has been welcomed by the regulators but criticised by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA).

The Law Commission has published a draft Bill that it says would provide a ‘clear, modern and effective legal framework for the regulation of health and social care professionals.’ One major change is that the regulatory bodies will have greater flexibility to change the rules about issues such as registration, standards and continuing professional development without government of parliamentary approvals, to avoid delays. This fits with a wider theme – that regulators will have greater autonomy to deliver their functions in ways that suits the profession concerned; at the same time, the Bill will impose greater consistency where necessary, for example fitness to practice hearings.

The draft Bill reforms the statutory grounds on which fitness to practice can be impaired – the proposed grounds include disgraceful misconduct, insufficient proficiency in English, and another regulator deciding fitness to practice is impaired.

Both the NMC and the General Medical Council (GMC) have welcomed the plan, with the GMC calling it a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to get medical regulation right, pointing out that the ability to modernise independently will allow regulators ‘to be more directly responsible for meeting the legitimate expectations of patients, the public and the professionals they regulate’.

NMC Chief Executive and Registrar Jackie Smith is also clear about the benefits of the draft ‘potentially revolutionary’ Bill, pointing out that the Prime Minister made a commitment to ‘sweeping away the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s outdated and inflexible decision-making processes’, as part of his response to the Francis inquiry in February 2013. She urges the government to timetable this Bill for the last parliamentary session, stressing how long the process can take.

The PSA, which oversees the regulators, says that the plans would be a ‘backwards step for public protection’ and that the proposals do not deliver what Francis called for – patients being at the centre of care, greater professional accountability and greater openness.