An independent health and social care safety commissioner or equivalent should be appointed for each UK country, a report has recommended.
The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) report said the commissioners should have responsibility for identifying risks across the whole health and social care system, as well as monitoring, reporting, and advising on ways of addressing patient risks.
Launched last week in Parliament, the report addressed four themes: tackling inequalities, regulating for new risks, facing up to the workforce crisis, and accountability, fear and public safety, all with the overarching recommendation for each country to have its own safety commissioner with a bird’s-eye-view across the system.
It called for the commissioners to have ‘a broader remit than just medicines and medical devices… to look across the system through the eyes of the patient and service user and bring about the necessary action across organisations’.
The PSA oversees 10 statutory bodies, including the NMC, assessing their performance and reporting to Parliament, and made numerous recommendations to regulators and registers in the report.
Highlighting persistent inequalities in access to and experience of healthcare services, it said the way data is collected about the protected characteristics of complainants must be improved, so that any differences in how care is delivered, and how complaints are handled, can be identified.
It also recommended regulators and registers work collaboratively to improve the diversity of fitness to practise panels and senior leadership.
It said a ‘firm and consistent’ approach was needed in enforcing expected standards of behaviour in employment settings and via the fitness to practise process with regards to racism and discrimination.
Further training and signposting to support professionals to tackle discrimination and difficult situations was recommended, as well as clear guidance that racism and other discrimination may result in removal from the register.
Addressing the workforce shortage in health and social care, the report said the four UK governments should work together to develop a coherent strategy for the regulation of professionals, to support delivery of the national workforce strategies.
It also urged regulators and registers to work together to identify opportunities to speed up workforce supply, equip practitioners for future challenges, close safety gaps and protect patients.
Meanwhile, looking at the changing ways health and care are funded and delivered, as well as factors such as commercial and financial interests, the report said governments and regulators ‘must be ahead of the curve’ to identify emerging risks and ‘should use the current reforms to healthcare professional regulators to ensure they have the agility to address new challenges’.
It said that a cross-sector review should be conducted of the effectiveness of arrangements to address financial conflicts of interest among healthcare professionals.
The PSA also expressed concerns about the safe spaces approach in England, where it said the law may prevent the disclosure of information that staff provide to safety investigations.
‘The UK government should ensure that this approach does not undermine existing public protection mechanisms or reduce transparency when things have gone wrong,’ the report said.
Caroline Corby, chair of the PSA, said: ‘In its twentieth year, the Authority is publishing a call to action for us all to work to address some of the major outstanding safety concerns for health and social care.
‘The upcoming reforms to the powers and governance of the healthcare professional regulators will help but won’t fully solve these complex problems.
‘Professional regulation is just one part of the picture. We want to work with governments and all bodies across health and social care to tackle the big issues we describe in the report.’
Alan Clamp, chief executive of the PSA, added: ‘We know from the findings of recent healthcare inquiries and reviews that major issues remain in the safety and quality of care.
‘In this report we make recommendations to tackle gaps in the safety framework. We are committed to playing our part alongside others to work towards safer care for all.’
The PSA will be hosting a conference in November with key stakeholders to discuss the issues raised in the report and continue the call for action.