"Every practising doctor and nurse knows that in addition to their obligation to care for their patients, they have an obligation as professionals to report to their professional body any concerns they have about the quality of care being delivered by their colleagues as a result of what they know or should have known"
says Stephen Dorrell MP, chair of the Health Committee, launching a report of recent accountability hearings held with two key regulators of the healthcare professions.
"This wider responsibility for the overall quality of care delivered to patients is a part of what it means to be a professional, and we look to the GMC and the NMC to ensure that failure to act on it is regarded as a serious breach of professional obligation.
We do so because we believe that true professionalism involves intolerance of the second best, and because we believe it is this intolerance which is the best safeguard of the standards of care delivered to patients.
At a time when there are significant concerns about standards of care in some parts of the health and social care system it is important that the professional regulators step up to the plate. Professionalism is about standards, and both public and professional opinion look to the regulatory bodies to give an uncompromising lead in this area."
In addition to this developing wider responsibility, the committee also reviewed the record of the GMC and NMC on some other concerns:
The committee stresses that both regulators need to have effective revalidation processes in place so that they can periodically check on how doctors and nurses are performing.
General Medical Council
MPs found that the GMC is recognized as a high performing medical regulator. However, they call for:
- greater transparency in the process for doctors seeking to remove themselves from the medical register
- stronger performance management of 'fitness to practice panellists' involved in adjudication of complaints
- a clear right of appeal for the GMC so that it can challenge adjudication panel decisions it feels are unduly lenient
Nursing and Midwifery Council
The Committee recognises that the NMC is making steady progress towards being an effective regulator but cautions that there remains substantial ground to cover before it can be considered fully effective:
- work around pro-active regulation (risk-based visits) must be expanded
- guidance about the care of older people must be reinforced by an action plan to deliver improved outcomes in this group
Echoing their earlier report on the revalidation of doctors, the Health Committee calls again on the Government and both regulators to dramatically speed up their efforts to resolve the serious problems posed by doctors and nurses who qualify elsewhere in Europe, and earn the right to work in the UK without having their language or medical skills tested.
The committee also concludes that the UK and European law that underpins the workings of both regulators needs a complete overhaul.
"The Government will need to place a priority on doing this if it wants to see the performance of these regulators improve"
The committee also calls for a system of mandatory regulation to be introduced for healthcare assistants once the NMC is on a surer footing.