President's column

Discussions about statutory regulation have continued with the Department of Health and their lawyers. In tandem with this, the government’s review of non-medical regulation, the Foster Review, has neared completion, and I have been a member of the Reference Group for that review. Andrew Foster advised the government Ministers in December, and before he did this we wrote to him setting out our views. In updating you as to the current position, I can do no better than to quote from the letter to Foster.
Discussions about statutory regulation have continued with the Department of Health and their lawyers. In tandem with this, the government’s review of non-medical regulation, the Foster Review, has neared completion, and I have been a member of the Reference Group for that review. Andrew Foster advised the government Ministers in December, and before he did this we wrote to him setting out our views. In updating you as to the current position, I can do no better than to quote from the letter to Foster. You will see that we are arguing very strongly that the best solution both for the public and for psychology would be a new regulatory body designed specifically for our needs, while also pressing for much-needed reform of the Health Professions Council (HPC):

‘Dear Andrew… As you will be aware, the Society not only welcomes the government’s moves towards statutory regulation but has been working towards this, with ministerial support and encouragement, for many years in the development of its own regulatory processes. Our key principle is that the public must be protected as effectively as possible and therefore all psychologists should be regulated who need to be for that purpose.
‘There has been much discussion in the Reference Group about the government’s desire not to proliferate regulatory bodies. I understand this. There is, however, a danger that the objective of harmonisation may be pursued to such an extent that there is an obliteration of important differences between the nature of services provided, the expertise of the providers and the training necessary to ensure fully competent provision. The Society believes this is happening.
‘I therefore must take this opportunity to restate to you (and, I hope, your Advisory Group) the view that the Society has discussed in some detail with your officials, namely that the regulatory model exemplified in the HPC is inadequate for the regulation of psychologists and, subsequently, allied professions. We believe that it is vital for public protection that a separate body is created. Work with the human mind and with personal and interpersonal behaviours and feelings is every bit as important to individual and social well-being as work with the body.
‘Our proposal is that a separate regulatory authority should be established, along the general lines of and with similar powers to the HPC. We believe that this is appropriate because psychology and allied professions work with an identifiable body of knowledge that is conceptually different from that of professions already regulated by HPC. We have discussed this at some length with your officials under the working title of a ‘General Psychology Council’. Our rationale for this is that:
(a) it will most easily allow for the regulation of all psychologists who should be regulated and will therefore provide the most comprehensive protection for the public;
(b) it can easily regulate a range of professions that share common core principles;
(c) it can be easily expanded in terms of both breadth and depth to regulate related professions, as well as those operating at different levels such as assistant psychologists.
‘Such a body would soon acquire a sufficiently critical mass of registrants and therefore rapidly become financially viable. More important, it would immediately enjoy the support of the professions it regulated and would win public respect and credibility. It would be able to work quickly and constructively to develop the necessary regulatory processes and procedures. (We note, incidentally, that the government has just agreed continued funding for a separate, specialist register for forensic practitioners.)
‘We should stress that we have met and discussed these proposals with colleagues in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy: they fully support our proposal and our assertions about its viability. We would all be willing to contribute to more detailed work on how the proposal might be implemented.
‘Having said that, we recognise that Ministers may choose to pursue a different route and to stay with current regulatory arrangements. If this is the case, the Society believes that a careful examination of the structure and processes of the HPC is an urgent necessity. We have identified – and set down in writing to both the Department of Health (DH) and the HPC – a significant number of concerns which would need to be considered before we would be reassured that
the HPC gave the public enough protection in the area of psychology. Since its inception, HPC has elected to tread a path that focuses on maximum harmonisation. Mapping this across thirteen different professions has meant that a lowest common denominator approach to standards has been adopted. We understand that the DH
is aware of the potential dangers of such an approach and that there is the possibility of a review of HPC’s structure and ways of working. We would support such a review and would welcome the opportunity to contribute.’

You must appreciate that to suggest setting up a new regulatory body is swimming against the tide of government thinking, but we owe it to the public and our membership to insist that this option is not brushed aside. We await, then, the outcome of the Foster review and the ministerial response, for which we have no timetable as yet.

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