Regulator looks to professionalise care workers

The Health Professions Council is planning to professionalise sections of the social care workforce in England with a national registration scheme for care staff, Community Care has learned.

The HPC’s chief executive, Marc Seale, confirmed that the regulator is considering opening the register to different groups among the workforce, which numbers 1.6 million in adult social care alone. This would require staff to meet minimum standards of training and conduct to continue practising and remain on the register.

The Department of Health announced in July 2010 that responsibility for regulating social workers would automatically transfer to the HPC, which will be renamed the Health and Care Professions Council, in 2012-13. But this does not apply to staff without a recognised social work qualification.

But the recently-published Health and Social Care Bill enables the HPC to consider which groups of social care workers will face compulsory or voluntary registration in the future.

In an interview with Community Care, Seale said the HPC would carry out risk assessments of each group and recommend to the health secretary which should be regulated.

“I think [the HPC’s] council will be keen to come up with a definable policy on regulating social care workers,” he said.

“My hunch is we’ll do that fairly quickly.”

He added that the HPC would look at policies in the other UK countries, which are further ahead in their plans to register social care staff.

Scotland and Wales already require groups of staff including residential childcare workers and managers, as well as social workers, to join the register in order to practise. And ministers in Northern Ireland announced plans in December for the phased introduction of compulsory registration of the entire social care workforce.

Voluntary registration for domiciliary care workers had been due to begin in England in 2010 after repeated delays, but it was suspended while the GSCC strengthened its conduct functions.

The uncertainty has concerned providers and service user groups. In 2009, a spokesperson for Counsel and Care said the lack of regulation put older people receiving care at home at risk of abuse and poor quality delivery.

In June 2010, a GSCC survey of more than 800 social workers found that three-quarters believed regulation had increased the profession’s status.

● The full interview with Marc Seale will appear in the 3 February 2011 edition of Community Care magazine and online next week.

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