[Note: This article, and its headline, were amended on 20/4/16 to make clear that the PSA report concerned the overarching regulatory approach to all health and social care professionals, not solely social workers]
The way health and social care professionals, including social workers, are regulated needs a “radical overhaul”, according to a report by the Professional Standards Authority that questioned whether the current system was fit for purpose.
Frightened into compliance
In its ‘Rethinking Regulation’ report published last week, the overseeing body said regulation which attempts to “frighten [registrants] into resentful compliance” is to the detriment of performance.
Rather than inflexible and punitive regulation, which stopped practitioners from being innovative, there should be a greater focus on how regulators can support registrants’ professionalism and prevent them from being overburdened with rules and guidance, the report said.
It added the idea that risk of harm can be totally eliminated threatens to corrode the public trust in professionals and in regulation itself.
“All health and care interventions have an element of risk which cannot be totally eliminated,” the PSA pointed out.
“Too often we have seen examples of regulatory mission creep, where regulators have sought to expand the boundaries of their activity in ways that have resulted in confusion for the public and internal conflict of interest.”
This “creep” was flagged up by the Law Commission in a report last year, in which it was suggested the approach used by some health and care regulators may be breaching registrants’ human right to a private life.
“Registrants’ careers and lives, and those of their families, can often be seriously and lastingly damaged too, sometimes by [registrants’] words or actions lasting no more than a few moments,” the PSA report said.
The PSA also concluded that a “proliferation of regulatory organisations inevitably impedes the pace of change and improvement across the sector. It also embeds operational inefficiency and unnecessary expense.”
Instead of the current fragmented system, there should be shared objectives between professional and systems regulators, the report recommended.
There are more than 20 different regulatory bodies and 12 professional regulators for health, care and social work in the UK. The report said this “vastly complicated and incoherent” regulator system existed despite a lack of understanding of the benefits of regulation and its influence on registrants behaviour.
The PSA proposed several steps that should be taken to improve regulation:
- A shared “theory of regulation” across the sector
- Shared objectives for system and professional regulators, and greater clarity on respective roles and duties
- Transparent benchmarking to set standards
- A reduced scope of regulation so it focuses on what works
- A proper risk assessment model for who and what should be regulated put into practice
A PSA spokesman said the report had been distributed widely and it was hoped it would stimulate discussion about what the next steps should be.