An independent health and social care commissioner for each of the four UK countries has been called for by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) in a major report on how professional regulation can improve patient safety.
The PSA, which oversees all the health and social care regulators across the UK, said the commissioners should be responsible for overseeing patient safety, identifying gaps in public protection, and helping in finding ways to address them.
“Any actions that are taken forward will need to prioritise public safety, and simplify the regulatory landscape”
The report also highlights serious workforce shortages in health and social care and sets out how professional regulation could be addressed to deal with them.
While warning of the thousands of nurse shortages across the health service, the report flagged that community, mental health and learning disability nursing numbers are all lower across the UK that they were in 2010.
It acknowledges the UK Government’s pledge to provide 50,000 extra NHS nurses by the end of the current parliament, but also highlights concerns that even if this target is met, the NHS workforce would still be too small.
“Something needs to change,” the report said about the workforce issues, while urging regulators, educators and professional bodies to explore whether there are “opportunities for accelerating training safely”.
“We recognise that there are likely to be risk trade-offs to be made here, but believe that those associated with workforce shortages may at least warrant a fresh look at training, length, pace and delivery method,” it added.
The report also said: “Creating new roles with shorter training requirements and adding them to an existing statutory register is one way to increase workforce numbers more quickly, but it too may need to be achieved faster.”
And it recommended that “regulators and registers work collaboratively to identify opportunities to speed up workforce supply, equip practitioners to deal with future challenges in how care is delivered, close safety gaps and protect patients and service users”.
The PSA also suggested there should be a clear process to guide the development of new health and care roles and that there should be agreement on when individual nations can deviate from a UK-wide approach.
In addition, it recommended that “those involved in health and care workforce planning and delivery across the UK actively support additional and alternative means of assurance as a means of managing risks to patients and service users”.
“Identifying risks relating to workforce shortages and how practitioners are regulated” could form part of the new health and care commissioners’ role, it added.
Caroline Corby, chair of the PSA, said: “In its twentieth year, the authority is publishing a call to action for us all to work to address some of the major outstanding safety concerns for health and social care.
“Professional regulation is just one part of the picture. We want to work with governments and all bodies across health and social care to tackle the big issues we describe in the report.”
PSA chief executive Alan Clamp added: “We know from the findings of recent healthcare inquiries and reviews that major issues remain in the safety and quality of care. In this report we make recommendations to tackle gaps in the safety framework.”
Meanwhile, Nursing and Midwifery Council executive director of strategy and insight, Matthew McClelland, said: “The PSA’s report makes an interesting contribution to the debate around regulation.
“We’re looking forward to discussing the recommendations further through our ongoing collaboration with the PSA.
“Any actions that are taken forward will need to prioritise public safety, and simplify the regulatory landscape.”
Professor of healthcare and workforce modelling, at London South Bank University, Alison Leary, said: “This is an ambitious report from the PSA which covers a large amount of ground and goes well beyond their usual remit and appears to cross over regulatory responsibilities with those of employers. The focus on patient safety and the proposals for safety infrastructure are welcome.”
The PSA is to hold a conference in November to discuss the report’s recommendations.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson highlighted how earlier this year it appointed its first ever patient safety commissioner for England Dr Henrietta Hughes.
“Dr Hughes will champion patients’ interests and improve the safety of medicines and medical devices,” they said.
“The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities was also set up recently to examine how best to reduce unacceptable health disparities, and our Maternity Disparities Taskforce is exploring how to tackle disparities in maternity services to improve the quality of care for mothers and babies.”
They added the department was also “boosting the NHS workforce, with almost 4,100 more doctors and over 9,600 more nurses working across the NHS compared to last year”.
“We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and support staff,” the spokesperson added.
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