Social workers who cannot communicate clearly in English could be banned from practice if the government accepts a series of reforms proposed by the three UK Law Commissions today.
Ministers would also have the power to introduce a licence to practise and system of revalidation for social workers in England, if the draft bill is approved; an approach the chief social worker for children and families, Isabelle Trowler, is currently exploring.
In today’s report, the Law Commissions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland recommend the creation of a single statute for the regulation of health and care professionals.
This would standardise the powers, duties and responsibilities of the nine main UK-wide regulatory bodies, including the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which regulates social workers in England. The draft bill does not cover the devolved social work regulators in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The bill, which is subject to government approval, recommends extending the list of reasons why a regulator could consider a registrant’s fitness to practise to be impaired to include “insufficient knowledge of the English language”. Registrants could face sanctions or removal from the register.
It also recommends that the government should have regulation-making powers to introduce or authorise systems of revalidation for any of the regulated professions.
The Law Commissions shied away from imposing revalidation on the regulators directly, on the basis that “the introduction of any such system could be expensive and costly” for some of the organisations involved.
Other recommendations that could affect social care workers include:
- The government should have the power to enable the introduction of compulsory student registration for any regulated profession
- All registered professionals should be practising or intend to practise; anyone else should be moved to a supplementary register
- The government should have powers to establish barring schemes, to be run by the regulators
- The range of sanctions available to regulators should extend to: advice, warnings, conditions, suspension and removal from the register. Panels would also be able to agree undertakings and voluntary removal
- The Professional Standards Authority would be required to review the economic efficiency of the regulators, to ensure they are providing value for money
In a statement, the HCPC said: “The recommendations made have the potential to provide greater consistency and flexibility to the legislation that governs all the regulators. We believe this will enhance regulatory processes and be beneficial to our core purpose of public protection.
“We particularly welcome the inclusion of barring schemes in the report. If introduced by government, this would make it a criminal offence for a person included on a barred list to work in that relevant health or care profession or occupation.
“Following our research and consultations with the social care sector, we have already recommended to government that a barring or ‘negative registration’ scheme for adult social care workers should be introduced in England.
“We believe this system of mandatory regulation would provide a proportionate and cost effective mechanism for regulating those groups and individuals who are currently outside a system of personal accountability. The Law Commissions’ recommendation, if adopted by government, would enable these proposals to be brought forward in the future.”
The review was commissioned by the then health secretary Andrew Lansley in September 2010, who announced it in the subsequent white paper, Enabling Excellence. Their remit was to review the UK law relating to the regulation of health care professionals and, in England only, the regulation of social workers.