Health professionals to face competence tests every five years

All health professionals will be required to prove their fitness to practice every five years, under landmark new proposals.

The main proposals in Trust, Assurance and Safety, the Regulation of Health Professionals in the 21st Century include:

  • the professional regulators will be independent of government and led by an equal partnership of independently appointed professionals and members of the public
  • all health professionals will be required to demonstrate periodically that they are fit to practice by revalidating their professional registration
  • moving from the criminal standard of proof to the civil standard with a sliding scale in fitness-to-practice cases
  • introducing a system of regional bodies affiliated to the General Medical Council, which will provide support to local employers in addressing concerns about doctors and independently assure the quality of local revalidation processes
  • more rigorous checks on references and qualifications when health professionals are recruited.

Alastair Henderson, deputy director of NHS Employers, which is responsible for employment issues in the health service, welcomed the proposals.

“Crucially, the White Paper properly recognises the importance of local employers in professional regulation and gives them new responsibilities to ensure the continuing competency of their staff.

“There is no doubt that this increased responsibility will present challenges for some organisations in terms of capacity and resource, but we will start working with them as early as possible to ensure that they have the processes in place to support the additional work that this brings.”

Proposals such as the development of standards and testing methods for revalidation, work to develop 360-degree feedback tools, and secondary legislation to change the governance of the regulators will be implemented immediately.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt said: “These changes are radical and significant and offer the opportunity for a long-term settlement. They enable us to put an end to the disagreements of the past and to focus clearly on patient safety and public and professional confidence.”

But the British Medical Association (BMA) said it was “wary” of what future requirements might be imposed for doctors to get their licence to carry on practising.

“Proving to patients that doctors are up to date and safe to practice is a good thing. But any attempts in the future to introduce meeting government targets into requirements for relicensing would be bitterly opposed by the BMA,” it said.

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