Could a thaw in regulation follow the coming harsh winter?
A recent letter from the GMC and CQC recognises the need for professionals to depart from established procedures of care in times of acute pressure.
On 11 November 2022, the leading individuals responsible for the regulation of the health and social care sectors in England, Wales and Scotland wrote in stark terms about the challenges facing the healthcare professions this winter.
The letter was written jointly by the GMC, the CQC and the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers and addressed to all NHS Trusts/Foundation Trusts, Integrated Care Boards, GP practices and Primary Care Networks.
Of note, the letter recognises ahead of time that professionals may need to depart from established procedures to care for people in times of acute pressure. It also directly addresses the fear that healthcare professionals have about a referral to their regulator in those circumstances. The letter strikes a reassuring tone, stating that:
"Your professional code and principles of practice are there to guide and support your judgments and decision-making in all circumstances. This includes taking into account local realities and the need at times to adapt practice at times of significantly increased national pressure. In the unlikely event that you are referred to your professional regulator, they will consider the context you were working in at the time, including all relevant resources, guidelines or protocols."
This reflects the increased recognition of contextual factors in healthcare regulators’ assessment of the conduct of those they regulate. It is unlikely to do much to reduce the pressure felt by individuals over the coming winter. It is less likely still to reduce anxiety levels amongst those professionals who do become subject to a regulatory referral. However, from an adviser’s perspective it underlines the importance of raising contextual factors in submissions. The letter itself may prove a useful tool with which to remind regulatory decision makers of that fact when responding to cases in future.
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