The body that oversees the UK’s health and care regulators is considering taking action over their failure to punish nurses, paramedics and physiotherapists who write dishonest benefit assessment reports.
The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) is to look next month at whether it should examine the failings of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
PSA, which is accountable to parliament, is responsible for overseeing nine UK healthcare regulators, including HCPC and NMC.
It has confirmed that it will be looking at the work of NMC and HCPC after being contacted by disabled activist Mark Lucas, who has twice appealed successfully against the results of what he believes were dishonest personal independence payment (PIP) assessments.
He has lodged a complaint with HCPC over its failure to discipline an occupational therapist who assessed him for PIP.
Lucas has twice been given zero points after PIP assessments, once this spring and once in 2015.
But on both occasions he was later awarded nine points – and eligibility for the PIP standard daily living rate – after appealing to a tribunal.
Frustrated at HCPC’s failure to take his complaint seriously, he contacted PSA, which has powers to take action against regulators like HCPC and NMC.
He was told by David Martin, PSA’s concerns and appointments officer: “At this present time, we cannot say that decisions about PIP assessors has been considered as a topic for our work in its own right.
“However, we do acknowledge this is an important topic and one that we may need to consider more closely.
“We therefore intend to discuss the issue further in the New Year to determine what we need to know about the regulators work and whether there is any action that we could take, that may improve regulation.”
PSA has the power to look at individual cases that have not been dealt with properly, and potentially refer them to the high court – but only if they reached a full HCPC or NMC fitness to practise hearing – but also to look at wider problems with the regulators in particular areas, such as how they deal with complaints about PIP assessors.
Martin is currently on leave, but PSA’s director of standards and policy, Christine Brathwaite, told Disability News Service (DNS) that the issue of flawed PIP assessments and how they were dealt with by the regulators would be considered in January.
She added: “In this particular case what you are raising is potentially an equality issue.”
Lucas said he was encouraged that PSA had agreed to examine the problem, and added: “I hope they will put pressure on the regulatory bodies.”
Lucas said he believed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was using HCPC and NMC to help “legitimise bad medical assessments”, and that the two regulators were failing to take the action necessary over nurses, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals who lie in their assessment reports.
PSA’s confirmation that it could act over the failures of the two regulators came as the minister for disabled people gave evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee yesterday (Wednesday), as part of its inquiry into the PIP and employment and support allowance assessment processes (see separate story).
Nearly 300 disabled people have come forward over the last year to tell DNS how their assessors wrote dishonest assessment reports while working for private outsourcing companies Capita and Atos, on behalf of DWP.
Many of them have raised concerns about the apparent refusal of NMC and HCPC to take their complaints seriously.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council declined to comment this week.
But John Barwick, HCPC’s acting director of fitness to practise, said: “The HCPC would welcome the opportunity to share its experience of dealing with complaints about healthcare professionals who carry out assessments for personal independence payment should the PSA decide to look into this area.”
He added: “Our fitness to practise process is designed to protect the public from those whose fitness to practise is impaired.
“If a registrant’s fitness to practise is ‘impaired’, it means that there are current concerns about their ability to practise safely and effectively.
“This may mean they should not practise at all, or that they should be limited in what they are allowed to do. We take appropriate action to make this happen.
“Sometimes registrants make mistakes or have a one-off instance of unprofessional conduct or behaviour that is unlikely to be repeated.
“This means their overall fitness to practise is unlikely to be impaired. Fitness to practise proceedings are not a general complaints resolution process nor are they designed to resolve disputes between registrants and service-users.
“Anyone can raise a fitness to practise concern about a professional registered with us.
“We consider every concern raised individually to first determine whether there is credible evidence which suggests that the registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.
“Where there is evidence that a registrant’s fitness to practise may be impaired then the concern will be fully investigated and the evidence put before an independent panel of one of our practice committees to determine whether a sanction is required.
“The Professional Standards Authority reviews every final hearing decision made by all the fitness to practise committees of all the health and social care regulators under its remit.
“The PSA can refer decisions to court to be considered by a judge if they decide that they do not protect the public properly.”