On 9 June members of the House of Lords continued their scrutiny of the Professional Qualifications Bill, as it entered the first of three days of committee stage. During this stage, the Bill is subjected to line-by-line analysis, and peers discuss the various amendments put forward by their colleagues.
BDA members will know that the dental workforce is under extreme pressure at the moment, but also that this should not be the excuse for any watering down of the skills required to practise, or any increase in the fees required to hold registration. Therefore in advance of committee stage the BDA briefed all those members of the Lords with an interest in the Bill.
While we welcome the clarification of the future recognition system for professional qualifications the Bill provides, we are concerned that it does not appear to distinguish between the requirements on the regulators of the healthcare professionals and other professions, considering them all in the same way. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, provide healthcare and treatments to their patients which makes them very different to a consumer-focused service. In addition, healthcare regulators have a statutory duty to protect the public. Therefore, they must be able to develop their recognition procedures without pressure from Government on workforce numbers.
Following our briefing we were therefore pleased to see that three peers raised our concerns in the chamber yesterday. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath made the point that “there is a need to safeguard and protect the integrity of the regulators and uphold the public interest in high standards among the professions covered by the Bill”, and reminded colleagues that dentistry is currently “under acute pressure”.
Baroness Randerson relayed the BDA’s concerns that “the proposals focus too heavily on simple qualifications and do not adequately recognise the importance of skills and experience, as well as the vital requirement to be of good character and to put patient safety first”, before going on to explain that current barriers to overseas dentists working in the UK would not be removed by simply encouraging more registrants.
Finally Baroness Noakes explained that she had drafted one of her amendments following concerns raised by the BDA, “namely that regulations could impose unreasonable burdens on a regulated profession to remedy a lack of appropriate qualification or experience in overseas professionals.” Baroness Noakes also echoed our concerns that the Bill must not lump healthcare professionals in with all trades, noting how vital it is that healthcare professionals must be allowed to focus on safety above all else.
The next day of Committee stage will take place on Monday 14 June – we have worked with Baronesses Hayter and Noakes to table specific amendments designed to safeguard the robustness of overseas qualifications used in the UK – and these amendments will be discussed then.