(Picture, chair of oversight group Harry Cayton, credit John Behets)
The man charged with overseeing the removal of the social care register from the General Social Care Council has assured social workers they should not notice significant changes during the transition process.
Harry Cayton, chair of the oversight group set up to manage the handover to the Health Professions Council, said the healthcare regulator was “experienced in managing these kinds of changes”.
“The HPC is an efficient organisation and I expect it to manage reasonably well in taking on the register and other technical issues,” he said in an interview with Community Care.
Cayton is chief executive of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which oversees the work of nine health regulators, including the HPC.
He was appointed by ministers to lead the transfer of the GSCC’s conduct and registration functions after the government announced in July it was scrapping the regulator, following a Department of Health review.
The decision went further than the previous government’s plans, which involved transferring the GSCC’s social care functions to another body and making the GSCC an independent, self-funded regulator for England’s 86,000 qualified social workers.
But care services minister Paul Burstow said this would have resulted in an “unsustainable” cost with fees rising from the existing charge of £30 to around £250-£300 per social worker per year. The GSCC disputed his figures.
Instead, social workers are expected to be charged £76 by the HPC, the amount currently paid by members of 15 health-related professions including occupational therapists and paramedics which are overseen by the HPC, when it is expected they join in early 2012.
During the transfer, some of the ongoing conduct cases involving social workers will continue to be heard under GSCC rules, while others will move across to the HPC.
“The people involved in those cases need to be confident that fairness will prevail,” Cayton warned.
The government has set a relatively tight timescale for the transfer, but Cayton said the oversight group would not allow rushed decisions.
“We’re determined to do the job properly, and that’s more important than the timetable,” he said.
However, Cayton confirmed that the transfer was likely to result in some major longer term changes to social work regulation.
As previously announced, the HPC is likely to move social work to a fitness to practise model of regulation, where social workers are held accountable for their professional competence as well as their conduct – as used in the health professions.
The appeals process is also likely to change, Cayton said. Appeals against decisions of the GSCC’s conduct committee are currently heard by the First-tier (Care Standards) Tribunal.
But Cayton said appeals should be heard by the High Court, again bringing social work in line with the nine health profession regulators overseen by the CHRE.
“From the CHRE’s point of view it creates consistency and we think consistency across regulation is important,” said Cayton.
This would also allow the CHRE to challenge the HPC’s decisions in relation to social work, particularly if it thought the regulator had been unduly lenient in individual cases.
Unions and social workers have raised concern about this drive to bring social work, which focuses on human relationships, in line with more clinically orientated professions.
“The HPC does regulate people already who are in the ‘human behaviour’ professions, not just the purely physical health professions,” argued Cayton.
“That said, I understand and believe it’s legitimate for social workers to raise those questions and it’s up to the HPC to demonstrate that it is capable of understanding and responding to particular issues around social work.”
As well as changes to the regulation system, some of the GSCC’s other functions are likely to be split off and transferred to other bodies, such as the College of Social Work. Cayton said functions such as workforce development were outside the specific remit of a regulator.
Separating workforce development from regulation would move the approach in England away from those taken in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Cayton admitted this could cause some “differences and tensions” over time.
The HPC has written to a group of social work organisation and stakeholders and has set up a professional liaison group to consult on the proposed changes.
Cayton said he expected to update Burstow on the oversight group’s progress within the next few weeks.
Members of the oversight group
● Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence
● Penny Thompson, chief executive of the General Social Care Council
● Marc Seale, chief executive of the Health Professions Council
● Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board
● Representatives from the Department for Education and the Department of Health
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