Statutory regulation – Government delays implementation indefinitely
FPH is disappointed at the Government’s decision to indefinitely delay the introduction of statutory regulation for public health specialists from backgrounds other than medicine.
The Department of Health have informed FPH that Ministers are currently reviewing how best to take forward the work of the Law Commissions of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on reforming the regulation of health and social care professionals, and consequently now believe it more appropriate to look at the regulation of public health specialists once this work is complete. They will therefore not be proceeding with the planned Order to introduce statutory regulation at this time.
FPH believe that these discussions around the work of the Law Commissions are likely to go on indefinitely and it is quite possible statutory regulation of public health specialists may never come to fruition. We believe that failure to effectively regulate over a third of the specialist public health workforce could lead to risks to the health and wellbeing of the public we serve, and erosion of public confidence.
The commitment to introduce statutory regulation was made by Andrew Lansley, the then Secretary State for Health, in January 2012. This followed recommendations from the NHS Futures Forum and strong support from FPH, the BMA and other organisations on the need to protect the public through a robust system of regulation for all public health specialists. The commitment was to address the anomaly by which public health consultants who are medically qualified are regulated by statute, but non-medical consultants are not. It subsequently became a key aspect of the Government’s 2012 public health workforce strategy: Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A public health workforce strategy.
FPH considers the decision not to move quickly towards statutory regulation as a serious threat to the health of the public. It also undermines any notion of equivalence within the multidisciplinary public health profession, whereby a significant number of public health professionals who have qualified through identical training routes are not regulated by comparable statutory mechanisms.
FPH has strongly supported statutory regulation for all public health specialists for many years. This should include not just initial registration but a system of revalidation to ensure the maintenance of high standards of practice and continuing professional development, as well as ensure equivalent standards for medical and non-medical public health specialists. FPH considers it vital that the specialist workforce in public health is fully regulated to protect not only the public’s health, but also to protect those agencies that are responsible for the delivery of a public health system.
In its response to the Department of Health’s consultation on the issue in 2014, FPH argued for the implementation of statutory regulation as soon as possible - an extension to the existing system of regulation that already quality assures two thirds of the specialist public health workforce in the UK. It is essential to have one quality assured system with the same standards applicable across the workforce that can be effectively monitored and maintained, and ensure public confidence through clear systems of accountability. FPH is unable to understand or recognise any logical argument why this specialty should continue to have a two-tiered system of regulation, statutory and voluntary. Those covered by voluntary codes of conduct can have a serious impact on the lives of those they are responsible for, with specialists in public health often making life and death decisions about the health of both populations and individuals.
FPH will continue to advocate for the implementation of statutory regulation for all public health specialists to be in place as soon as possible. In the meantime, FPH will work closely with the existing voluntary register, the UK Public Health Register, to ensure that the system available for specialists from backgrounds other than medicine is as robust as possible to ensure that the communities and populations we serve are protected.
17 September 2015
Written: 17/09/2015 , last modified: 21/04/2016