Social work expertise of Health Professions Council in doubt

Not enough is being done to reassure social workers in England that the Health Professions Council will be an effective regulator, a senior academic has said.

Not enough is being done to reassure social workers in England that the Health Professions Council will be an effective regulator, a senior academic has said.

Sector leaders were shocked last July when the government announced that the General Social Care Council would be scrapped and responsibility for regulating social workers in England transferred to the HPC in 2012.

Some worried that a multi-profession regulator such as the HPC would struggle to understand the unique challenges facing frontline social workers – a sentiment echoed by many practitioners.

Now Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, London, has accused the HPC of failing to allay this anxiety.

He said: “If anything, the concerns are even more prominent now.

“In the last year we’ve become more aware of the dangers of not respecting the specialist requirements of social care. For example, we’ve seen the concerns raised regarding the Care Quality Commission about the regulation of care for adults in a regulator dominated by health.

“I’m concerned that the abolition of the GSCC in a year’s time will be another example of this.”

Responding to Jones’ comments, the HPC defended its track record in regulating 15 health and social care professions.

Anna Van der Gaag, chair of the HPC, said: “The HPC is confident, given its experience and approach to regulation, that it is well placed to regulate social workers in England and looks forward to working closely with the government, stakeholders and the GSCC to ensure a smooth transition.

“Our approach to regulation means we are able to effectively regulate a diverse range of professions within a common framework and we already have robust standards and processes which will ensure high standards in social work education and practice.”

Penny Thompson, chief executive of the GSCC, said she understood the concerns of the sector, given the difference between the two regulators.

But she added: “It is safe to say that we are committed to working closely with the Department of Health and the HPC to bring together the knowledge and expertise of both organisations in a way that strengthens the social work profession, sustains public protection and supports the social work reform agenda.”

Jones also called for the HPC to make significant changes to its senior management and structure, in order to involve social work experts in decision-making from the beginning.

“There ought to be people appointed into the HPC who have demonstrable understanding of social work now, rather than when it’s a fait accompli,” he said.

Van der Gaag said: “The HPC will be recruiting 180 ‘partners’ from social work fields to provide the expertise the HPC needs for its decision-making, and ensure that we have good professional input into what we do.”

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