• Government confirms it will change how professions are regulated but delays more radical reforms
  • Confirmed changes include powers for regulators to automatically remove professionals guilty of serious crimes
  • More than half (58 per cent) of consultation respondents supported cutting number of regulatory bodies 

Ministers will not reduce the number of professional regulator bodies until further work and a second public consultation have been carried out.

In a response to a 2017 consultation on changes to professional regulation, the Department of Health and Social Care today confirmed it will make changes to the way doctors, nurses and other professions are regulated but will delay more radical reforms.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council, General Medical Council and other bodies will be given a new legal basis to carry out their work along with new powers to change the way they handle fitness to practise cases.

Changes to legislation will also grant the regulators the power to automatically remove professionals guilty of serious crimes, but not manslaughter. The DHSC said the list of offences was in-line with the legislation passed to establish Social Work England and the review by Sir Norman Williams into gross negligence manslaughter said the offence should not constitute grounds for automatic erasure.

Additionally, regulators’ existing councils will be replaced with boards and non-executive directors.

In the original consultation, the government considered whether to reduce the number of professional regulators - currently there are nine - to improve efficiency and reduce costs, but the consultation response noted this needs further work.

The consultation received more than 900 responses with 58 per cent supporting a cut in the number of bodies and only 31 per cent disagreeing with the proposal.

The document said: “The UK and devolved governments believe that a case can be made for fewer regulatory bodies, but acknowledge that more work is needed before bringing such a proposal forward.

“The UK and devolved governments will consider how best to develop proposals to reconfigure the professional regulation landscape. Any proposals to reconfigure the regulatory bodies will be subject to public consultation.”

Changes the government has agreed to make would require Parliamentary time.

The proposals include:

  • All regulators using case examiners to resolve complaints on a consensual basis;
  • Professionals being automatically removed from registers when convicted of serious crimes such as murder and sexual offences (manslaughter is not included on a list of suggested offences); 
  • The GMC being stripped of its right to appeal fitness to practise cases, leaving the Professional Standards Authority with the only right to appeal tribunal decisions;
  • Regulators being unable to require registrants hand over reflective material;
  • Regulators being able to change their day-to-day practices without the need to see new legislation or rule changes;
  • Regulators having a new duty to consider wider workforce implications when developing processes;
  • Regulators being given new requirements on openness and transparency including the creation of annual reports; and
  • Councils being reformed into boards with non-executive directors comprising the majority. Registrants can sit on the board but will not form a majority.

In addition to these changes, the government will look at drafting secondary legislation to reform the number of bodies, the level of regulation for some professions and education standards.

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive of the NMC, said: “This will enable us to operate with greater flexibility and autonomy – shaping our regulatory requirements more easily through guidance and policy, rather than detailed rules – which will be so much better for everyone involved.”

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, added: “We welcome this long-awaited report and its emphasis on greater flexibility and autonomy for regulators.

“As the health and social care system grapples with building a sustainable workforce, regulation must be agile enough to adapt and respond to changing future demands rather than confined by an approach determined only by today’s challenges.

“It has now been seven years since government first consulted on legislative reform. We look forward to a fully formed plan for taking those changes forward.”