Reflections on regulatory change ahead

1 December 2017

Fleur Nielsen, Head of Policy, Council of Deans of Health

We are entering a period of great change in the regulation of both health professionals and higher education. The Government is working hard to keep us all on our toes in the run up to Christmas with consultations running concurrently on reforming healthcare regulation, the regulation of nursing associates in England (both Department of Health consultations) and a major consultation for the higher education sector on the new regulatory structure and governing ethos for HE regulation.

Trish Livsey, our executive lead for regulation, hosted a teleconference this morning for interested members to discuss the Department of Health proposals. We had a really useful conversation, which will form the basis of draft consultation responses. These drafts will be shared with our wider membership for comment over the next couple of weeks.

The Government’s proposals for reforming professional regulation could have profound consequences for individual practitioners and educators. All four UK Governments hope to introduce greater consistency between regulators, more shared working and greater efficiency. This could ultimately lead to a reduction in the number of regulatory bodies. Though I can’t imagine either the HCPC or NMC will be subsumed into other bodies, there will no doubt be suggestions that the HCPC should assume responsibility for some of the smaller independently regulated health professions.

It is really heartening to see the Department of Health highlight the duplication between the regulatory responsibilities of professional regulators and other regulators of higher education. This echoes the Professional Standards Authority’s (PSA) recommendation that health professional regulators focus on setting and assessing learning outcomes leaving other regulators to deal with broader questions of course management. The PSA has just published its own weighty publication on health professional regulation, a whole chapter of which examines the way regulators interact with educators. It seems our sector really does have reason to hope for a less bureaucratic regulatory framework in the future. This is a central theme too for the Department for Education in its consultation on higher education regulation. The risk-based approach of the Office for Students is intended to focus on ‘minimum (but high) outcomes’ stopping short of telling providers how to meet these expectations or seeking to achieve continual improvement above this baseline.

As healthcare and higher education reforms proceed in parallel it will be vital that we keep an eye on any overlap and help our regulators to coordinate their work. For example, the PSA notes that the Teaching Excellence Framework will need to fit with existing requirements from professional regulators and other bodies with regulatory oversight. We are excited to be bringing our professional regulators together with the Quality Assurance Agency for two unique workshops at this year’s AGM which will give members a chance to discuss and help shape the future of quality assurance for our subjects.

Meanwhile, our professional regulators are moving forward with their own agendas. We have just responded to the HCPC’s consultation on the future of paramedic education and continue to engage with the NMC on nursing associate regulation, the implementation of new standards for nursing and review of quality assurance.

Our Council has an important role in influencing the development of a regulatory system for health profession education which is fit for the future, streamlined and agile enough to accommodate changing professional roles and new routes into the professions while safeguarding standards in the face of mounting workforce pressures and new education providers.


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