Skip to main content

Concerns persist about axing student register as HPC launches temporary measures

The Health Professions Council (HPC) has responded to significant concerns about its abolition of student registration by launching a new ‘suitability scheme’ to oversee education providers in the role they will be expected to play as arbiters of trainee social workers’ fitness to practise.

The scheme will be introduced from 1 August when the HPC assumes responsibility for registering students from the General Social Care Council, which is being abolished on 31 July.

The HPC’s move to establish the transitional scheme follows criticism from BASW about its decision to axe the registration of all student social workers, a move the Association says will undermine public protection by watering down safeguards against poor practice.

Despite the transitional arrangements, BASW’s chair Fran Fuller, also a social work course leader at Derby University, said the changes were not sufficient. She pointed to the increasing financial pressures on universities, arguing that most will not be capable of carrying out the level of scrutiny that the GSCC has undertaken since social work regulation was introduced in 2005.

“The complexities of some professional concerns presented by students should be scrutinized by social work professionals or people with an insight into areas such as risk and vulnerability,” Ms Fuller said.

“We don’t expect ordinary unqualified people to become social workers and protect vulnerable people from harm, which is why we have a professional degree, so why is it acceptable to charge lay people with overseeing often complex scenarios around a student’s suitability to practice?”

The transitional scheme, confirmed at an HPC Council meeting on 19 June, will be in place while the HPC scrutinises social work programmes in England against its standards of education and training.

The initiative contains four interim measures, each aimed at addressing concerns about gaps in the regulatory system while universities are developing their capacity to cope with the new requirements on them.

Most notably, the scheme means the HPC Council will maintain a record of students who are prevented from participating in a social work programme in England. Secondly, in exceptional cases, education providers will be able to seek the opinion of HPC on whether an applicant is of suitable character to be admitted to a degree programme.

Thirdly, the HCP can investigate where it considers an education provider has failed to deal with a credible complaint about a social work student, while finally, the regulator will be able to review an education provider’s decision to prevent a social work student from being admitted to or participating in a social work programme.

The HPC decision not to register students follows the same approach it takes with the range of health professions it also regulates, such as physiotherapists and chiropodists. Critics of applying the same logic to trainee social workers, however, insist the HCPC is overlooking the fact that social work students undertake placement sin the community, sometimes working without a qualified professional.

Ms Fuller said the HCPC’s new proposals still did not address this fundamental concern. “The issues of accountability on placement and lone working are unique from other health and social care degrees.”

The outgoing regulator, the GSCC, also expressed disappointment at the HPC proposals. Chief executive Penny Thompson said: “We note that the scheme is being introduced on a temporary basis. The only way of ensuring that unsuitable students are prevented from re-entering a social work degree course after having been removed, is to maintain the list of prohibited students permanently.”

The HCPC insisted the plan showed it was listening. Commenting on the scheme, Anna van der Gaag, chair of the HCPC, said it indicated a willingness to listen to social worker views: “In developing this scheme, we have taken account of the concerns of the social work community.

“Our core purpose is public protection; we too want to see improvements in the quality of practice placements and in the mechanisms to ensure that students have a clear understanding of what is required of them as students and as future professionals. We are confident that the standards of education and training will deliver this.”