Skip to main content

Professional regulation in health and social care

Professional regulation plays a vital role in setting and enforcing the standards of professional behaviour, competence and ethics underpinning the day-to-day interactions patients and the public have with the NHS and the variety of other health and social care services within the UK.

Professional regulation existed long before the NHS was created in 1948. The Medical Act 1858 established the General Council of Medical Education and Registration of the United Kingdom following a long campaign to abolish quackery. The council, later renamed as the General Medical Council, was required to appoint a registrar and maintain a list of all those registered to practice, with powers to remove those found guilty of “infamous conduct of any professional respect.”1 The council was also given a role in medical education, including a degree of control over the syllabus for trainee doctors.

The 1902 Midwives Act2 and the Nursing Registration Act 19193 brought nurses and midwives into regulation at the beginning of the 20th Century, with a requirement that those practising these professions register with the Central Midwives Board and the General Nursing Council respectively.

In the UK nine regulators now regulate 32 professions by law. Professional regulation is a statutory system, but independent from government.

The roles, functions and powers of the nine regulators vary, but all of them perform the following functions. They:

• set standards of competence, conduct and ethics which professionals must meet to register and practise.
• check the quality of education and training courses, including practice placements, to ensure trainees develop the knowledge, skills and qualities to practise competently and safely.
• maintain a public register of professionals that anyone can search.
• investigate complaints about registered professionals and make decisions about whether they should be allowed to continue to practise.4