Memorandum submitted by the General Optical Council (H&SC 29)
1. Thank you for giving the General Optical Council (GOC) the opportunity to submit evidence to the Public Bill Committee in relation to the Health and Social Care Bill.
2. We have limited our comments to the provisions in the Bill relating to the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator (OHPA). In general, we believe the move to an independent adjudication body is in line with best practice to ensure that registrants' human rights are protected and that all parties can continue to expect fair, impartial treatment. In the longer term, shared adjudication should mean more consistent fitness to practise decisions across the healthcare professions. We therefore support the establishment of OHPA, and would wish GOC cases to be referred to OHPA at the earliest opportunity. Our concerns relate to some of the detailed provisions in the Bill. These are outlined below.
3. We note the provisions of clause 19 of Schedule 6 as to financial accountability. There are provisions elsewhere in the Bill allowing representations to be made to OHPA regarding the fees paid to OHPA by the regulators. However, there is no mechanism for the regulators to take further any concerns they may have over excessive expenditure (hence higher fees) should those representations not be met with an adequate response. We acknowledge that OHPA must be independent of, and not accountable to, the regulators. There should, however, be a mechanism to ensure proper oversight of OHPA's expenditure that takes into account the views of the regulators.
4. We would expect the regulators to be provided with OHPA's annual accounts and business plan, and to be invited to provide comments on those documents to the Secretary of State. We would welcome these arrangements to be provided for in the Bill. If they are not to be provided for in the Bill, we would expect to see these in the regulations to be made under NC 7(1).
5. Furthermore, we would make the following specific comments:
· NC 7 (1) - We note that there is no requirement for the Secrtary of State to consult the regulatory bodies when making the regulations. We would expect to be consulted on the regulations including the financial formula which will be used to determine the fee payable by each regulator.
· NC 7 (3)(b) - We are unclear as to the circumstances in which there could be chargeable costs which would not be attributable to the OHPA's functions under a relevant regulatory Act. We would want clarification on this issue, as this provision would appear to provide OHPA with the opportunity to spend excessive sums on administration without any meaningful accountability to the regulators.
· NC 7 (5)(c) - In circumstances where the fee notified under (5)(c) is in excess of the fee proposed under (5)(a), for example in consequence of representations made by another regulator, the regulator must be given reasons and the opportunity to make representations. We expect that the regulations will contain detail as to the mechanism for dispute resolution. We would be concerned were the only route to challenge a notified fee, other than by simply making representations, would be by way of judicial review.
6. We note that, under Schedule 7, para 29(3), the Adjudicator must take account of the guidance published by GOC relating to indicative sanctions. We welcome this provision as consider it essential in order that the OHPA is able to reach appropriate and consistent decisions on the cases that come before it. We would be concerned if this clause were to be watered down to give the Adjudicator the option as to whether it takes into account the guidance, as we understand has been proposed. This would seriously undermine the efforts being made to promote consistency of outcome across different cases.