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Stafford Hospital inquiry chairman recommends regulation of health care assistants

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The chairman of the high-profile public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, Robert Francis QC, has recommended that health care assistants (HCAs) become a regulated profession.

HCAs presently work alongside and under the guidance of qualified medical professionals, such as nurses, doctors, midwives and clinical scientists and provide auxiliary care and assistance. At present, HCAs are not required to be registered with either the Nursing & Midwifery Council or the Health and Care Professions Council.

However, in an interview with the Nursing Times published on 7th February, Mr. Francis indicated that he believes that the regulation of HCAs is necessary in order to protect the public. He stated that “We do need a system that protects the public by ensuring that people are prohibited from continuing in that role when it’s not safe to do so.”

Mr. Francis’ comments follow the publication of the report of the public inquiry into The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The report calls for fundamental change in the culture of the NHS to ensure that patient safety always takes priority over performance targets and cost-cutting.

Mr. Francis’ also identified the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) as the appropriate regulator to govern HCAs. This is notwithstanding recent concerns about the NMC’s ability to meet its objectives, such as those outlined by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence in July 2012.

Mr. Francis’ comments echo those made in 2012 by the Royal College of Nursing; the Royal College of Midwives and Unison in a joint response to a Department of Health Consultation. That response called for the regulation of all healthcare professionals as means of ensuring patient protection and ensuring standards of care.

The comments made by Mr Francis raise the prospect of an expanded remit for the NMC; greater oversight of all professionals working in the NHS; and where appropriate, HCAs being called to fitness to practise proceedings.

By professional dicipline solicitor, Carl Johnson