MDDUS reacts to new consultation on regulation of healthcare professionals

MDDUS has commented on the publication of a Department of Health and Social Care consultation on the future of healthcare regulation.

The UK Government is seeking views on a variety of proposals to modernise the legislation of healthcare professional regulators. It believes the current model is “rigid and complex and needs to change to better protect patients and service users, support our health services and to help the workforce meet future challenges”.

Responding to the consultation, Chris Kenny, chief executive of MDDUS, said: “There is much to welcome in these proposals to modernise regulation of healthcare services."

“In particular the removal of the GMC’s right to appeal fitness to practise (FTP) decisions, the exclusion of reflective practice material in FTP cases, and a focus on the consideration of proportionality in changes to regulators’ rules, processes and systems.

“It will also be important to maintain momentum on these proposals for all regulators– reform of the GDC must not be allowed to lag behind GMC changes.

“However, we know the impact of the pandemic on healthcare professionals’ wellbeing and mental health has been significant. The government must introduce a statutory duty to protect the health and wellbeing of healthcare professionals as a priority. Failure to so whilst embarking on an overhaul of professional health regulation would be a missed opportunity.”

Earlier this month Mr Kenny wrote to ministers pointing out that the planned review of health regulators was a golden opportunity to introduce reforms that will significantly reduce stress on health professionals and ensure patients’ rights are safeguarded.

He warned that ducking the opportunity will only serve to increase the pressure on an already highly stressed NHS workforce as we exit the pandemic and attempt to build back better.

In a recent MDDUS survey of members, 45 per cent reported being more stressed now than they were during the first wave of the pandemic, while 51 per cent said they were tempted to quit the NHS or retire early.

Mr Kenny said: "Reforms to the regulators’ working practices are vital because too many doctors and dentists face the stress of a regulatory investigation, only for it to close without a finding of impairment – an unsatisfactory situation for them and their patients.

"The absence of regulatory reform in the White Paper was a missed opportunity. That’s why we are calling on ministers to use their upcoming consultation on reform of the health professional regulators to address these long-overdue issues with the way doctors and dentists are investigated.

"These need to be progressed in tandem with any further development of the professional regulatory framework. To do this in a piecemeal fashion will only exacerbate existing divisions and concerns about how fit for purpose the current regulatory arrangements are."

MDDUS wrote to health minister Jo Churchill MP urging her to consider three urgent reforms:

  • Removing the GMC’s right to appeal decisions of the Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service (MPTS)
  • Introducing regulatory powers for the GMC in relation to Physician Associates and Anaesthesia Associates, and
  • Making provision for the registration of dentists trained in the EEA, as the current exemptions for European dentists entering the UK register automatically expires at the end of 2022.

Mr Kenny added: "We believe that focussing on the institutional structure of regulators will severely delay, or at worst prevent, the improved outcomes, reduced bureaucracy and better performance that we all seek."