The Government has set out plans to modernise fitness to practise processes and give healthcare regulators greater autonomy to be responsive to a fast-changing healthcare environment.

The UK Department of Health & Social Care has published its response to the consultation on Promoting professionalism, reforming regulation.

In the response, the Government has said it will introduce new legislation will enable healthcare regulator’s fitness to practise cases to be resolved more quickly.

There is recognition that the current legislation that governs the UK regulatory bodies is bureaucratic, inflexible and has led to complex and inefficient systems including that of the General Medical Council (GMC).

The Government has committed introduce legislation to reform the healthcare regulatory system “to enable the regulators to place a greater emphasis on supporting the professionalism of all registrants, while continuing to take appropriate action to manage concerns about a minority of professionals.”

The Government said that fundamental change can only be delivered through freeing the regulatory bodies from the constraints of prescriptive and bureaucratic legislation.

What is changing?

Modernisation of fitness to practise processes

The Government said at the heart of these changes is the “much needed modernisation of fitness topractise processes.”    This will mean that healthcare regulatory bodies will be given “a full range of powers to investigate and resolve complaints about their registrant’s fitness to practise more quickly, providing early resolution for patients, families and professionals, and ensuring that the steps necessary to protect the public are put in place sooner.”

The process will be more collaborative and less adversarial, more efficient and less bureaucratic. This will give regulators the capacity to invest more of their resources in supporting the professionalism of all registrants.

The fitness to practise reforms, the Government said, will aim to deliver:

  • Modern and efficient fitness to practise processes;
  • Better support for professionals; and
  • More responsive and accountable regulation.

Greater autonomy for regulatory bodies

The Government said that too much of the regulators’ day-to-day functions is set out in legislation.  This adds unnecessary delay and complexity when making simple operational changes and hinders the regulatory bodies’ ability to be responsive to a fast changing healthcare environment.

The new legislation will ensure greater autonomy for regulatory bodies to set more of their own operating procedures leading to more responsive regulation.  However, with greater autonomy also comes the requirement for greater accountability.  The Government will also put in place measures to support this, including requirements to update patients and family members on the progress of fitness to practise cases in which they have an interest.

Health minister Stephen Hammond said: ‘We are delivering on our commitment to modernise professional regulation.

‘These changes will allow regulators to dedicate more of their resources to supporting the professionals working in our NHS and contribute to safe, high-quality patient care.’

NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said the changes would enable the organisation to operate with greater flexibility and autonomy – shaping regulatory requirements more easily through guidance and policy, rather than detailed rules.

General Medical Council

In addition, the Government has confirmed that it will make two additional legislative changes recommended by the Williams review and accepted by Government:

  • To remove the General Medical Council’s (GMC) right to appeal decisions of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) to the High Court; and
  • To modify the GMC’s powers to require information from registrants for fitness to practise purposes to exclude reflective practice material.

The Government has not indicated when the legislative changes will come into force other than saying it will “consult on draft legislation to deliver these changes in due course.”

Stephen McCaffrey

I am a GMC Defence Barrister who has represented large number of medical professionals before their regulatory bodies in either first instance proceedings or appeals.  I can help with all matters relating to GMC Fitness to Practise Referrals issues including:

  • GMC fitness to practise referrals
  • GMC fitness to practise hearings
  • Appeals against a MPTS Tribunal determination
  • MPTS Interim Order hearings
  • Appeals against a MPTS Interim Orders Tribunal determination
  • Preparing your case before the Case Examiners
  • Help with the decision of the Case Examiners
  • Help with voluntary removal
  • Registration advice
  • Appeal against refusal of registration
  • Restoration to the Register
  • Investigation and disciplinary hearings at work
  • Criminal investigation and proceedings
  • Police cautions
  • DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] issues


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