Further health bill delay risks confusion for social workers

The government's health legislation faces being further delayed until the autumn risking confusion for social workers re-registering next year if it puts back the abolition of the General Social Care Council.

The government’s health legislation faces being further delayed until the autumn risking confusion for social workers re-registering next year if it puts back the abolition of the General Social Care Council.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said today that the Health and Social Care Bill would be sent back to a committee of MPs for a line-by-line examination in light of government plans to make substantial changes in response to heavy criticisms.

There is unlikely to be sufficient time for MPs to scrutinise the bill before the summer recess, meaning it would be pushed back to at least October, reports The Guardian.

The news follows the original “pause” in the passage of the legislation, resulting from the creation last month of the NHS Future Forum to consider objections to the bill.

The Department of Health did not confirm whether the bill would be recommitted to the committee stage in the Commons, with any decision pending the report of the NHS Future Forum. A spokesperson added: “We are currently listening on our plans to strengthen the NHS and awaiting the report from the NHS Future Forum.”

However, Clegg is quoted by The Guardian as saying: “I think we will need to send the bill back to committee. I have always said that it is best to take our time to get it right rather than move too fast and risk getting the details wrong.”

Were the bill to be delayed until October, this could push back plans to transfer responsibility for social work regulation from the GSCC to the Health Professions Council. This had already been been put back by three months to July 2012 because of the government’s original “pause” in the legislation.

While the GSCC said the original delay may “facilitate an efficient and effective transfer to the HPC”, independent consultant and former GSCC vice-chair Melanie Henwood warned that a further delay could cause problems for social workers looking to re-register next year.

“This would add to public confusion and could lead to social workers failing to renew their registration on time,” said Henwood last month. “It is also important for the staff and conduct panel members working for the GSCC that they have clarity about the timetable they are working to. Further uncertainty would be disruptive and could create capacity issues, making a managed handover to the HPC more challenging to deliver.”

BASW – The College of Social Work also warned last month that a further delay would “cause concern”.

However, the HPC said it still expected to assume responsibility for the social work register next July.

NHS leaders also raised concerns today over the potential delay, with the bill promising a total overhaul of the health service by scrapping primary care trusts and transferring commissioning responsibility to consortia of GPs and responsibility for public health to councils, and injecting more competition into health provision.

“We have to get these reforms right and we need to ensure they have a proper political mandate, said NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar.  “But the government must also have an eye to how long the legislative process will take.  The NHS is under enormous pressure and we need the clarity quickly in order to make it easier for the NHS to deliver financial stability and high quality services for patients.”

The delay also has implications for the long-term reform of adult social care funding.

With the Dilnot Commission on care funding set to report in early July, former Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Richard Jones had warned that its recommendations could be overshadowed by the original delay to the bill.

A further delay, pushing the bill’s return to Parliament beyond the summer, could work in Dilnot’s favour by creating space for his recommendations to have a fair hearing and possibly influence the bill, a scenario that Adass may favour.

In his speech today to University College London Hospital, Clegg also called for closer working between GP commissioners and social services.

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