Large variations in how much health regulators protect the public have been exposed in annual performance reviews.

The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence has found marked differences between the nine professional regulators, with some taking years to investigate complaints and failing to disclose health workers' misconduct.

The regulators, which include the General Medical Council, Nursing and Midwifery Council and Health Professions Council, cover a wide range of occupations.

The review found that "the quality of regulation and the level of protection provided to the public differ between the regulators". Some were "hampered by the limitations of their legislation". But this did not fully explain the "considerable variation in how effectively the regulators use their fitness to practice processes".

Resolving complaints

In particular, there were concerns about the timescales for resolving complaints, with the nurses' council taking an average of 29 months and the General Dental Council 20 months.

In addition, online registers of health professionals did not always contain information the public should know. For example, the General Optical Council's online register did not publish conditions imposed by fitness for practice panels.

In one case, the Health Professions Council had imposed a condition that a registrant could not treat female patients without a chaperone present, but this information was not easily available to the public.

Misconduct records

Registers maintained by several regulators also failed to include "admonishments", or lower level misconduct.

The strongest criticism was reserved for the nurses' council, which the CHRE concluded "is carrying out its statutory functions but fails to fulfil these to the standard of performance that the public has the right to expect of a regulator".

The CHRE's tough approach has been attacked by the nurses' council, which has been riddled with internal wrangling. Its president, vice president and chief executive have all resigned in the wake of the row.