Negative register for social care staff back on the cards following Law Commission review

Social work regulator welcomes proposal to make it easier to set up barring schemes

Care worker helping with meds
Credit: Voisin/Phanie/Rex (posed by models)

The chief executive of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has reaffirmed his commitment to setting up a ‘negative register’ for social care workers in England, as the government considers a wider programme of regulatory reform.

Marc Seale said the Law Commissions’ recent recommendation to give the government powers to establish health and social care barring schemes, to be run by the regulators, would enable the HCPC to proceed with its plans to set up a negative register.

The HCPC first proposed setting up a negative register of care staff found to have a committed a serious breach of a code of conduct in 2012, after it took over the regulation of social workers in England. It argued that this would be cheaper than registering all social care workers and was more likely to be effective than voluntary registration or self-regulation.

However, the proposal met with some resistance. The Professional Standards Authority said it was not clear who would pay for the scheme and expressed concerns over whether employers would refer cases to the body in charge of the negative register, given the potential risk of reputational damage.

In January, the Department of Health said it had “no specific plans” to implement such a scheme.

However, Seale said the Law Commissions’ bill made it more likely that a negative register could still go ahead. “From our perspective, this is a good outcome,” he told Community Care this week. “It’s a good way to increase standards for those not working at a professional level.”

Asked whether the bill lent weight to the HCPC’s argument against transferring the role of regulating social workers in England to The College of Social Work, as recommended by Martin Narey in his recent education review, Seale said: “It’s clear the professional body and the regulator have different responsibilities that work closely together.”

He went on to point out that merging the two functions in social work would go against a general trend in favour of separating such roles. For example, in September 2010 the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain was split into two separate bodies responsible for representing and regulating the profession. “That has been successful,” said Seale.

He also emphasised the importance of having a professional body focused solely on representing and improving standards in social work.

“They have such an important role to play in things like continuing professional development. If you’re a newly-qualified social worker and you have a professional body that supports you, that’s a really important role for those people coming into the profession.”

It is thought the government will outline its response to the Law Commissions’ proposals during the Queen’s Speech on 4 June.

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