Skip to main content

Healthcare Professions: Regulation

Volume 754: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to modernise the regulatory framework for the healthcare professions.

My Lords, we asked the Law Commission to undertake a major review of professional regulatory legislation, which reported in April this year. The report is complex and needs thorough consideration, which we are currently undertaking. We are committed to legislating on this important issue when parliamentary time allows. In the mean time, we are already using secondary legislation to make urgent changes necessary to make sure that patients can continue to be confident they are receiving safe care.

My Lords, the noble Earl will recognise that the Law Commission work has been extremely valuable. The outcome is potential legislation to modernise all the regulatory bodies in the health service, which has the full support of all the regulatory bodies. The noble Earl cannot be serious in suggesting that a lack of time prevents Parliament considering that Bill. It was widely expected to be taken in this Session, and I am sure that we could come back a week or two earlier to help the noble Earl get this through. Is the real case not that the Government are so worried about their stewardship of the NHS that they dare not bring a Bill on healthcare in this Session?

No, my Lords. We understand the frustration felt by the regulators that this has not been taken forward yet, but other government priorities have had to take precedence. That is the reality that we must accept. As I have said, we are committed to legislating on this important issue when time allows. With that in mind, we are currently working hard in consultation with key partners, including the professional regulators and patient and professional representatives, on our response to the Law Commission’s work. The complexity of that exercise cannot be overemphasised.

Would my noble friend agree that, after the very challenging Bills that went through the House in the first two Sessions, this Bill would have support right across the Chamber, across both Houses and across all the professions in terms of patient safety? Would my noble friend also agree that this would be a wonderful opportunity for us to tackle the appalling situation whereby 1.3 million healthcare support workers are not regulated and do not have standards, and no one can judge fitness to practise? A draft Bill would at least give us an opportunity to frame that legislation.

My Lords, as my noble friend will know, we have debated the regulation of healthcare assistants on a number of occasions. The Government’s view is well known. However, I agree with him that the content of the Law Commission’s draft Bill is welcome to many parties—indeed, the Government are keen to see it progress. Much of the proposed legislation is already law in one form or another. The review is about pulling together all the different bits of legislation, introducing consistency across the professional regulators where practicable, making sure legislation is fit for purpose and, importantly, introducing flexibility for the regulators to respond to changing situations.

Will the Minister confirm that the Department of Health intends to bring in an urgent amendment via a Section 60 order to allow the GMC to implement the urgent reforms that it needs to protect patients and bring doctors to account?

Yes, my Lords, we are working with the GMC to develop secondary legislation that will strengthen and protect the separation of the GMC’s investigation and adjudication functions by establishing the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in statute, as well as modernising the adjudication procedures, and to address a number of lacunas in the legislative framework. We are seeking to have the Section 60 order on the GMC’s fitness-to-practise processes in place before the general election.

I declare an interest as chair of the Professional Standards Authority. The authority has already done preparatory work for the Department of Health on which changes to Section 60 orders would be in the interests of public protection and cost-effectiveness. Can the Minister say that the Government will take account of this work and the views of the regulators as they consider their next steps?

My Lords, yes, I can give that assurance. In fact, there is a range of Section 60 orders that are at various stages of development, which we hope to introduce over the coming months.

Yet again I shall declare an interest as a past president of the GMC from 1982 to 1989. To follow up a point made by my noble friend Lord Patel, I spoke recently to the current chair of the General Medical Council, Sir Peter Rubin. He and his colleagues are very concerned about the introduction of a number of important changes in the interests of improving medical treatment and medical education, and to protect patients, which will require amendment of the Medical Act. What are the prospects of seeing any such amendments introduced in this House and debated before the next election if the Bill introduced by the Law Commission is to be long delayed?

My Lords, I have already said that we will introduce a Section 60 order amending the powers of the GMC, as it has requested and as we agree should happen. There is a range of changes that we hope to incorporate in that Section 60 order and I hope to have further news on that quite soon.

My Lords, I draw the Minister’s attention to the regulation provided by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which is allowing entirely unvalidated experimental treatments, such as pre-implantation genetic screening, for patients who then have to pay to experiment on themselves. Many clinics are also advertising on the Underground and some have relationships to do work that is not allowed by British regulation in other clinics overseas. Is the noble Earl prepared to respond to that really burning issue and the exploitation of infertile women?

I recognise the importance of the issue that the noble Lord has raised. Some of those issues are extremely troubling. However, I do not have an up-to-date position on the policy position that the Government are taking but I will write to the noble Lord about that.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that clinical physiologists desperately need full registration? They have had voluntary registration for some years and they say it does not work.

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of the request by the physiologists, and I will write to the noble Baroness on the up-to-date position.