The General Social Care Council is to be scrapped as part of a government review of quangos.
In future, regulation of social workers will be carried out by the Health Professions Council, which regulates 15 professions including occupational therapists and psychologists, though this is to be renamed.
The government made the announcement today as part of a widespread review of “arm’s-length bodies” within the Department of Health, which will see the abolition of up to 10 quangos saving up to £180m by 2014-15.
Explaining its decision, the DH said it saw “no compelling reason” to retain the GSCC and instead saw “potentially significant benefits from putting the regulation of social workers on a similar footing to the regulation of health professionals”.
The government said the decision was in line with the wider reforms set out in the health White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, namely to cut cost and remove duplication and burdens on the NHS.
It said it would be cheaper for social workers to register with the HPC, which currently charges £76 a year. The government said this is less than the likely fee if the GSCC were to operate alone on a full-cost recovery basis.
However it accepted there were differences between the two bodies, which will need to be explored through a review of social care regulation.
Among these the HPC is solely responsible for setting education and training standards, while it is for the health secretary to decide what training is needed to become a social worker.
The HPC does not register students, unlike the GSCC, nor does it approve post-registration courses apart from in a small number of cases.
The changes will require primary legislation, though this is dependent on discussion with the HPC and the GSCC.
The decision goes further than the previous government’s plans, which involved transferring the GSCC’s social care functions to another body, leaving the GSCC as a regulator for social workers.
A DH spokesperson said discussions had been undertaken between the GSCC and the department last week at policy level, though Community Care understands that many staff were shocked by the decision.
It is uncertain what will happen to GSCC staff, while the future of Skills for Care and the Social Care Institute for Excellence still remains open.
Commenting on the arm’s-length review, health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Over the years the sector has grown to the point where overlap between organisations and duplication of effort have produced a needless bureaucratic web.
“By making sure that the right functions are being carried out at the appropriate level, we will free up significant savings to support front-line NHS services.
“I know that the uncertainty created by this review has been difficult for staff. The constructive support of the chairs and chief executives of all the organisations has been invaluable throughout this process. We will be supporting them to carry on their essential work during and beyond the period of transition.”
Among other bodies set to be scrapped is the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, which is focused on providing treatment for people who misuse drugs.
What is the role of the Health Professions Council and how other social care quangos are chanding
Commentary: Abolition of GSCC is a leap into the unknown