New powers could be created by the Department of Health to effectively “blacklist” healthcare support workers who could be a danger to patients, under latest moves to tackle the long-standing issue of a lack of regulation for this group of workers.
Ministers are considering using prohibition orders against unregulated staff who are found to present a risk to patient safety but are not covered by existing statutory regulation as nurses and doctors are, it has been revealed.
“The Department of Health is currently exploring alternatives to statutory regulation”
The powers, which would require legislation, would see the creation of “negative registers” – lists of staff no longer allowed to work in the NHS.
This could apply to healthcare assistants, physician assistants, care workers and some psychological therapists and counsellors who are not overseen by bodies like the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
It is likely the government would set out regulations making clear when an individual would be barred from working. Breaching a prohibition order could be made a criminal offence.
Nursing Times’ sister journal Health Service Journal has seen a letter from the DH to the Professional Standards Authority – which oversees the NMC and other professional regulators – asking it to look at the use of prohibition orders. A similar system is already used in New South Wales, Australia, to take action against unregulated care staff.
“Schemes of this kind would only be able to deal with the worst cases of misconduct”
The letter sent by Nick Clarke, deputy director for professional standards at the DH, said: “The Department of Health is currently exploring alternatives to statutory regulation in the UK for the parts of the health and social care workforce, which can be shown to present a risk to the public and cannot effectively be controlled by existing means.
“The policy intent is to provide a proportionate solution to the risks posed to patient safety that would prevent individuals who posed a risk from working in a similar role in the health and social care sectors,” Mr Clarke said in the letter.
The department accepted that the use of prohibition orders and negative registers “might in effect be a ‘blacklist’”, the letter said. The DH said it was still considering its position and no decision had been made.
The 2013 Francis inquiry recommended that HCAs be registered ahead of moves to regulation, but the government rejected the proposal. A subsequent review of HCA training and support, which did not directly tackle the issue of regulation, recommended that they all should complete a Care Certificate.
- Aims of Cavendish review into HCA training revealed
- All HCAs should complete care certificate, says Cavendish review
- Make care certificate compulsory for HCAs, says Cavendish
Prohibition orders could help to tackle situations where health staff come off statutory registers and return to work as care staff, or where staff are dismissed by one trust and seek work with another employer.
In its advice to the health secretary, submitted last month, the Professional Standards Authority said prohibition orders would be an effective way to “deal with severe cases of misconduct and remove those that may be a danger to the public”.
It said such an approach could boost public confidence and cover multiple groups of staff and would likely be less costly and complex than full regulation. However, it also warned the idea was unlikely to “foster professionalism in any meaningful way” and could have a negative impact on workforce morale.
The authority said: “Schemes of this kind would only be able to deal with the worst cases of misconduct and only after harm has been caused. It would prevent future danger by removing the most harmful individuals from the workforce, however any deterrent effect on other individuals is difficult to assess.”
“We caution against identifying a solution, such as prohibition orders, before a clear problem has been identified and risks have been assessed,” it concluded in its report titled Initial evaluation of the feasibility of prohibition order schemes for unregulated health and care workers in the UK.
There are nine statutory regulators in the UK with 23 voluntary registers, but a quarter of NHS staff in England work as unregulated healthcare support workers.
In 2014, the Law Commission recommend the government introduce barring schemes, but the government has yet to move forward on its commitment to reform professional regulation.