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Plans to merge healthcare regulators being drawn up by DH

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Proposals to merge some of the nine regulators overseeing healthcare professionals, including nurses, doctors and dentists, are being drawn up by ministers in England in a move that could make it simpler for complaints about poor care to be made.

The Department of Health told Nursing Times it was looking at a number of options that will be put out for consultation in the near future.

“It is important that the government establishes a shared vision for future regulation”

Jackie Smith

However, it would not confirm whether a proposed merger of the Nursing and Midwifery Council and General Medical Council was included within plans, despite national media reports suggesting it was an option being considered.

The proposals come after the Francis inquiry into care failings at the former Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust concluded that it was confusing for the public to understand which body complaints should be directed to.

The inquiry’s report, published in 2013, also called for regulators to share information and cooperate more effectively.

Discussions between regulators, the DH, employers and unions took place over the summer about regulation reform.

At the time, the head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council said the body was interested in aligning training standards between professions – in particular for doctors and nurses – but did not want to see regulators merged.

In a statement provided today, the NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said “wide-ranging” reform of regulation was required and highlighted the importance of working more closely with other bodies.

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Jackie Smith

“The regulatory and healthcare environment is changing at an unprecedented rate and it is important that the government establishes a shared vision for future regulation which will allow us to become the modern and dynamic regulator we want to be,” she said.

“While the government has not yet published details of its plans for a future model of healthcare regulation, it is our ambition to work more closely and collaboratively with other regulators, including the GMC with who we share common goals,” she added.

The GMC said it was not able to comment until the DH had published its proposals.

Meanwhile, the Professional Standards Authority, which oversees the work of all nine healthcare professional regulators, said it believed they should merge if it would save money for fee-paying registrants.

The PSA also said it wanted to see all health professionals working to a set of common standards to reflect multi-disciplinary working.

In addition, it recommended the creation of a single public register listing all healthcare professionals authorised to practise – instead of the current nine separate ones – to make it easier for the public and employers to access.

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Christine Braithwaite, director of standards and policy at the PSA, said: “We agree that reform is vital. Professional regulation is out of step with modern healthcare.

“In our paper, Regulation Rethought, we suggest regulators should consider sharing functions and merging, if savings can be made for registrants,” she added.

The nine regulators overseen by the PSA that potentially face merging

  • General Chiropractic Council
  • General Dental Council
  • General Medical Council
  • General Optical Council
  • General Osteopathic Council
  • General Pharmaceutical Council
  • Health and Care Professions Council
  • Nursing and Midwifery Council
  • Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland
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