Regulatory reform: proposals for education and training

12 May, 2021 by Ross Scales
Regulatory reform: proposals for education and training

The Government is currently consulting on proposed changes to healthcare professional regulation. Here, our Head of Upstream Policy, Ross Scales, takes a closer look at a few of the education and training proposals.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is now consulting on proposals to change healthcare professional regulation, including how we might regulate education in future. Getting this right will mean not only reflecting on what might work for now, but how much flexibility we need to make sure it is sustainable.

Working in and around education and training at the GDC for over ten years, I don’t think anything has caused me more frustration than trying to reconcile our rigid and near 40-year-old legislation with the needs of a modern regulatory system. Unsurprising, when you think about what has changed in education and dentistry, as well as the wider world, over that time.

The proposals set out by the DHSC finally give us an opportunity to influence what our future legislative framework might look like – to turn it into something that works better for today - and that will stand us in good stead for tomorrow.

What is going to change?

Much of what is being proposed for education and training may not lead to immediately obvious changes to how we regulate, and there is some way to go before they become a reality, but there are new powers being proposed that are likely to have an impact. Let’s explore a couple of them here.

Recovering the costs of regulation

At the moment, the cost of quality assuring dental education is funded almost exclusively by the fees paid by dental professionals. This might change under these reforms.

One of the proposals is for healthcare regulators to have the ability to a charge a proportionate fee to third parties i.e. others who are not registrants, for the regulatory activities we carry out. This could be used to recover the cost associated with, for example, the assessment of a new application for approval for an education institution or a new qualification. Regulators would also have the ability to extend fees to activities that take place outside of the UK, which could create new opportunities for assessing applications for registration from people whose qualifications were earned in other countries.

This sits quite comfortably with our current fees policy - that the cost of our activities should be borne by those most closely associated with that activity, removing cross subsidy where we can – but would mean that education providers would find themselves being charged for services they currently receive without cost.

The introduction of annotations

One of the more interesting proposals from DHSC is for ‘annotations’ of the register (described in both the education and registration sections of the consultation). This could change the way we list specialties and other qualifications in future.

What is clear from the proposals is that annotations will need to have a purpose – public protection through the provision of clear information for patients and the public.

It is suggested that annotations could be used in a range of ways, such as indicating a specific area of expertise, gained through specialist training, or recording a legal entitlement, such as prescribing powers. They may also be used to denote any practice limitations, if perhaps someone was new to the register, or if someone was visiting from overseas and was only permitted to work in specific posts.

This will be something new, if introduced, and so we will need to consider carefully how best to make use of this responsibility.

More flexibility

Of course, learning doesn’t stop when someone joins the register. Undertaking lifelong learning or CPD is a part of being a healthcare professional. Turning back to the current inflexible legislation again, as we are presently unable to amend the CPD rules, we faced restrictions in the allowances we could offer during the pandemic. The proposals would allow greater flexibility in how and when we can make changes to CPD requirements.

Responding to the consultation

We are now formulating our own views on the proposals, but ours is just one point of view, there will be many others. This consultation provides a chance to influence what a new legislative framework might look like and it doesn’t come around very often. So please take a look at the proposed reforms and share your thoughts before the consultation closes on 16 June.

Find out more about the DHSC consultation and how to respond.

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