The Law Commissions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have opened a consultation on how the regulation of health care professionals in the UK and social workers in England can be made clearer, simpler, more modern and more consistent.

Currently the Law Commissions operate within a variety of legal frameworks that have evolved in different ways and at a different pace, and were established long before devolution. As a result there are inconsistencies in their powers, duties and responsibilities. In addition, the current system for approving rules is complex and expensive. In the UK today there are about 1.4 million health professionals working in 31 different professions governed by 9 separate regulatory bodies. These include the General Medical Councils, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Health Professions Council.

In the joint consultation, 'Regulation of Health Care Professionals and Regulation of Social Care Professionals in England', the Commissions set out provisional proposals for the structure of a new legal framework across the UK and are seeking views on how a new framework would:

  • Give the regulators increased flexibility in the use of their powers while ensuring their public accountability 
  • Enable the regulators to ensure proper standards of professional education, conduct and practice, and establish and maintain a register of professionals
  • Have at its heart a duty on the regulators to protect the public.

Frances Patterson QC, the law commissioner leading on the project for England and Wales, said: "The existing legal framework for professional regulation is complex and expensive, and it requires continuous Government intervention to keep it up to date. This joint consultation will inform our joint project to establish a regulatory system for the four countries of the UK that is clear, consistent and modern. It must be robust enough to ensure proper standards for safe and effective practice yet flexible enough to cope with emerging and future policy developments."

Patrick Layden QC TD, who is leading the project for the Scottish Law Commission, added: "Policy makers throughout the UK are encouraging people to take more responsibility for their health. We should try to build a system of health regulation that is easier for citizens, as well as health and social care professionals, to understand and that is committed to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of the public."

The consultation will also update the regulatory system to take account of devolution, as The Hon Mr Justice McCloskey, who is leading the project for the Northern Ireland Law Commission, explained: "The regulatory system governing the health and social care professions of the UK has its roots in a time that long pre-dates devolution. One of the aims of this project is to ensure that, as we reform the regulatory system and bring it up to date, the legitimate interests of the devolved administrations are properly recognised and expressed." The Commissions seek responses by May 31.

The consultation paper includes a full list of provisional proposals, and can be found on the Law Commissions' websites at: www.lawcom.gov.uk, www.scotlawcom.gov.uk and www.nilawcommission.gov.uk.