What the Professional Standards Authority is and how it helps GP commissioners

The introduction of GP commissioning brings with it responsibility for delivering quality and outcomes on a day-to-day basis for individual patients and also collectively for areas, writes Rebecca Gowling, of law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer LLP.

Rebecca Gowling: 'The PSA is to set standards for organisations that hold voluntary registers for people working in health.'

Commissioners may be assisted in their role by the Health Bill. It transfers the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence’s (CHRE) existing responsibilities, for example for the regulation of the health profession, to the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) and gives it responsibility for:

Overseeing the regulation of the social work profession in England,

Setting standards and quality assuring voluntary registers for practitioners involved in providing health and social care which do not by law have statutory regulation,

Overseeing and assuring voluntary registers, and,

Quality assuring appointments to health professional regulators.

In particular GPs and commissioners are likely to be assisted by the accreditation of voluntary registers the aim of which is set out in the government’s command paper Enabling Excellence published by the DH in 2011.

The government’s aim is to encourage the development of professional conduct, ethical practice and high standards of performance to create a system which allows the public, employers or professionals to gauge standards of performance, without the costs associated with statutory regulation.

The PSA is to set standards for organisations that hold voluntary registers for people working in health and social care occupations, the idea being that organisations will apply to the PSA for accreditation of their registers.

A list of accredited registers will be published on the PSA’s website which employers, commissioners and the public will be able to search to choose an organisation that has been assessed and accredited by the PSA.

Many of the organisations that hold voluntary registers and are expected to apply for accreditation, have been in existence for some time. However, accreditation is not guaranteed as they will have to demonstrate compliance with the standards set by the PSA.

The aim is to launch the accreditation scheme in November 2012. From this date organisations will be able to apply for accreditation. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, the draft standards, against which registers will be assessed, have only just been published and a formal consultation process opened.

The consultation process opened on 17 April 2012 and will run to July 2012 following which a second draft of the standards will be presented to CHRE for approval. It is hoped that a report on the consultation responses and the final standards will be published at the end of July 2012.

In accordance with the draft standards, to qualify for assessment organisations must meet the eligibility criteria by demonstrating that they:-

  1. Operate in accordance with recognised good practice; and
  2. Are committed to protecting the public and promoting public confidence in the profession or occupation it registers.

Provided the eligibility criteria are met a full assessment will be commenced taking into account the organisation’s governance procedures, the standards required of registrants, the requirements for education and training, the register itself, how complaints and concerns are dealt with, the information provided by the organisation and guidance on premises products and equipment.

Organisations will maintain responsibility for managing their own registers and be responsible for:

  1. Carefully vetting registrants before registering them;
  2. Monitoring standards and conduct; and
  3. Taking disciplinary action in respect of registrants who fail to meet the organisation’s standards for conduct and competence.

The main difference between the voluntary and statutory models for regulation is that within the voluntary model if a registrant is removed from the register they will not be prevented from practising in their chosen area. However, provided the PSA’s accredited lists and the individual organisations voluntary registers are kept up to date it should be clear if action has been taken to remove an organisation or an individual.

Once the accredited register has been set up the PSA will review governance arrangements as necessary and periodically review organisational compliance. I envisage that similarly to the PSA’s role in reviewing the performance of statutory regulators’ they will: -

  1. Identify things done well;
  2. Identify where improvements can be made;
  3. Review and audit decisions taken regarding registrants’ compliance with agreed standards for conduct and competence.

To date 45 organisations have expressed an interest in becoming accredited by the PSA. Although the initial indications are positive, only time will tell whether the voluntary model will receive the necessary support from the public and private sector to enable the PSA to develop coherent arrangements across health and social care. 

However, voluntary regulation should allow commissioners and GPs to identify accredited organisations and professionals at the touch of a button, with the reassurance of knowing that the organisation and its standards for vetting registrants and monitoring standards and conduct are deemed appropriate.

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