Review proposes fines for social workers found unfit to practise

A review into the laws governing health and social care regulation has proposed that ministers be able to give regulators the power to fine those found to be unfit to practise or make them pay the costs of their conduct hearings.

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The laws governing health and social care regulation should be binned and rewritten, according to the Law Commission. The commission, which advises government on legal reforms, says decades of piecemeal legislation have made the law on health and social care regulation overly complex and inconsistent.

In a consultation paper released today, the commission proposes replacing all of the existing legislation that governs regulators such as the General Social Care Council and Health Professions Council with a new, simpler law. The paper sets out detailed recommendations on what this new law should contain, some of which may affect how social workers are regulated in the future.

One such proposal is that ministers will be able to give regulators the power to fine those found to be unfit to practise or make them pay the costs of their conduct hearings. While the commission says this could prove controversial, the current system of covering the costs through registration fees raises the question of “why good professionals should be expected to subsidise the miscreant”.

Ministers would also get to decide if regulators should introduce compulsory student registers under the proposals. Another suggestion is for regulators to have the option of using mediation to resolve allegations of misconduct instead of the usual formal hearing. Those struck off the social care register should also have the right to appeal to the High Court under the new legal framework. In 2011 there were seven appeals made against General Social Care Council conduct hearing decisions.

The commission made no recommendations about the number and remit of the 10 health and social care regulators, however. “It’s not really a matter for law reformers, it’s more a political decision,” said Tim Spencer-Lane, a lawyer at the commission.

The consultation on the proposals runs until 31 May before the commission starts work on a final report and draft bill that it expects to publish in 2014.

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