Social workers have been in the spotlight in recent times,
particularly in the aftermath of the Baby P scandal. This summer we
expect to see the implementation of the Government's plans to
close the General Social Care Council (GSCC) and
transfer the regulation of social workers to the Health Professions
Council (HPC). This followed concerns raised by
the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence in its 2009 report
regarding the effectiveness of the GSCC's case management
system and its ability to deal with complaints in a timely manner.
BDB has been advising the HPC to assist the smooth transition from
the GSCC to the HPC, and in this article Lynsey McIntyre sets out
some of the background.
The Health and Social Care Act, which received Royal Assent on
27 March 2012, formally abolishes the GSCC and facilitates the
transfer of functions to the HPC. The transfer, which is expected
to take effect on 31 July 2012, will only affect the 86,000 social
workers currently registered with the GSCC in England; social
workers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will continue to be
regulated by their respective national bodies. After the transfer
date, all social workers in England must register with the HPC in
order to practice as a social worker.
The HPC currently regulates 15 health, care and therapy
professions, such as physiotherapists, psychologists and arts/music
therapists. Once the transfer of regulatory functions to the HPC is
complete, it is envisaged that the HPC will change its name to the
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
A significant change for social workers is that the GSCC
currently investigates concerns about registrants based on
allegations of misconduct, whereas the HPC model of regulation is
based on fitness to practise, covering complaints of misconduct and
also concerns about competence and health issues. The HPC has
consulted with the profession to produce specific standards of
proficiency, which will reflect to some degree the existing GSCC
codes of conduct. All HPC registrants are subject to the standards
of conduct, performance and ethics as part of their registration, a
copy of which can be found on the HPC website: http://www.hpc-uk.org/aboutregistration/standards/standardsofconductperformanceandethics/
Existing investigations will transfer to the HPC on the transfer
date to be disposed of in a 'just' manner and registrants
will be contacted about existing cases in due course.
Given that GSCC's current definition of misconduct is widely
formulated so as to touch on issues of competence, e.g. the social
worker has failed to protect the rights of users or protect them
from harm, it remains to be seen whether the fitness to practise
model used by the HPC will in fact result in an increase in the
number of complaints received and pursued.
The transfer of regulation of this profession arises amidst
interesting times ahead for health and social care regulators, as
the coalition government moves away from mandatory statutory
regulation towards the set up of voluntary registers for currently
unregulated professions, seeking a balance between the cost of
regulation and the protection of the public. The HPC and other
regulators are already looking ahead to consider whether and how to
implement voluntary registers for aspirant groups.
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Chapter 7 of the White Paper considers Justice. Scotland already has its own separate legal system so the potential for change is not as far reaching as in some other areas set out in the White Paper.
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