Professional regulation

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The system of professional regulation in the United Kingdom is designed to ensure that if a patient is seen by a health care professional, such as a doctor or a midwife, the patient can trust that the care they receive will meet certain minimum standards of safety and quality.

However, a number of high-profile cases of substandard practice and (in the case of Harold Shipman) murderous behaviour by doctors has raised questions about whether the present system, based on self-regulation, is fit for purpose.

After commissioning two reviews of current arrangements for the regulation of all health care professionals, the government has concluded that the public's trust in a doctor's continuing fitness to practise throughout their career must now be 'underpinned by objective assurance'.

In February 2007, the government published a White Paper entitled Trust, Assurance and Safety: The regulation of healthcare professionals in the 21st century. This set out significant reforms to the system of professional regulation, which, if implemented, will introduce new checks and assurances for the safety and quality of professional performance and make the regulatory councils more accountable.

This briefing outlines the current system of professional regulation in the United Kingdom, describes the criticisms of this system, details the government's proposals for reform, and discusses the potential strengths and weaknesses of the proposed changes.