State-Regulation: The Fog Begins to Clear

March 2007

The government has now published its White Paper Trust, Assurance and Safety -The Regulation of Health Professionals in the 21st Century clarifying and setting out its proposals for state-regulation of a number of professions, including psychotherapists, counsellors and applied psychologists. For those with Acrobat Reader, the White Paper may be accessed from the Department of Health website.

The White Paper follows two earlier reports for consultation, published by the Department of Health: The Donaldson Report, Good doctors, safer patients (outlining proposals for the regulation of medical practitioners) and the Foster Review, The regulation of the non-medical healthcare professions (outlining proposals for the regulation of, inter alios, psychotherapists and counsellors).

An outline of the results of the two consultation documents, as well as the circumstances surrounding publication of the White Paper, may be found on the Department of Health website.
Most of the White Paper is concerned with the government proposals for the regulation of medical practitioners, which it is not proposed to refer to here. Specific proposals concerning the future regulation of psychotherapists, counsellors, applied psychologists and others are interwoven with the proposals for medical practitioners at various points in the White Paper. The three professions referred to will be dealt with in the same way, though not at the same time – applied psychologists will be regulated before psychotherapists and counsellors. The main provisions affecting those professions may be summarised as follows:

1. Except for the pharmaceutical profession, there will be no new regulators
2. Psychotherapists, counsellors and applied psychologists will be regulated by The Health Professions Council (“HPC”)
3. The council of HPC, along with all other regulators, will be subject to the following changes:
a) it will have fewer members
b) there will be at least parity of professional/lay composition, subject to future review
c) members will be independently appointed by Appointments Commission
d) there will be a duty to deal with the interests of all stakeholders
e) it will be accountable to Parliament
f) meetings will be open to the public
g) it will function more like an executive board and deal only with strategic matters, rather than with operational matters
4. HPC will draw members for its disciplinary tribunals from a central list of those persons who have been vetted and approved to sit on such tribunals
5. Disciplinary procedures will be subject to the concept of fitness to practise