Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2012


Dáil Éireann, 3rd October 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. As health and social care becomes increasingly specialised, it is only proper that professionals working in these areas are properly registered and I believe that this is the rationale behind the Bill currently before the House.

Just a few short years ago, only five professions were subject to statutory registration, these being doctors, dentists, nurses, opticians and pharmacists. At the time that was sufficient as that was the extent of specialisation within the profession. However, as scientific knowledge increases, so too does the need for registration and among the health and social care professionals included in this Bill are dieticians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers and speech and language therapists.

The Bill will have the benefit of giving much-needed clarity to consumers wishing to purchase the services of some of these professionals. For example, a person procuring the services of a speech and language therapist for a child can be assured that if they are registered with the necessary board governing that profession, that they have the proper qualifications and that those qualifications have been checked and independently verified.

Equally, if someone is letting a social worker into their home or engaging with a psychologist, they deserve to be assured that the person involved has achieved the necessary competence and that this has been independently verified. The registration process will protect the public but will also protect the professionals involved in that proper entry requirements will be established and there will be a proper mechanism to oversee entry into the profession and ensure that this is restricted only to people who have the necessary qualifications.

At European level, the introduction of the professional qualifications directive set out the rules for recognition of qualifications between member states, an important consideration for the many professionals of Irish origin working abroad and it is also worth noting that this Bill also provides for the recognition of qualifications obtained outside the state, which are outside the scope of the Directive, which was transposed into Irish law in 2009.

The fact that the Boards established under this Bill will determine fitness to practise complaints for each of the 12 listed professions is another important consideration. This was provided for in the 2005 Act, but has not commenced to date and the passing of this Bill will facilitate the speedy introduction of proper complaints procedures.

For students currently in second level education, greater clarity will be provided as a result of this Bill as one of the functions of the Health and Social Care Professionals Council is the approval of Education and Training courses, so clarity should be available to prospective students in terms of career paths.
Once concern that I do have is the slow nature of progress to date, in terms of the establishment of the various boards. For example, only two of the 12 registration boards proposed have been established, the first of these, the Social Workers Registration Board, was appointed in August 2010 and the register for social workers opened in May 2011 and all practising social workers must be on the register by the end of May 2013. 2,700 social workers are expected to be on the register by the end of May next year, and much work remains to be done in relation to this process.

Another concern must be the payment of an application fee and subsequently of an annual retention fee. This is a cost of going to work and should be recognised as such, perhaps with these fees being offset by tax credits.

The procedures involved in the appeals system must be fair and it is only right and proper that applicants for registration who are dissatisfied with the outcome, have the right to appeal and the list of grounds for appeal are listed in the Bill. I also welcome the fact that under the current Act, and also under the provisions of this Bill, applicants will have the right to appeal a registration board decision to the High Court to ensure that their rights are safeguarded.

As medicine and social care becomes increasingly specialised, it is fitting that a proper system be put in place to recognise emerging specialities and ensure that all professionals claiming membership of a particular medical or social care profession have their competence independently verified and have complaints against them arbitrated on by a professional and independent body.
I welcome the provisions of this Bill and the clarity that they bring to the use of the 12 professional terms listed in the Bill and the safeguards that they provide both to the professionals involved and to users of their services.