There has been widespread media coverage about the many thousands of healthcare professionals altruistically returning to work (or starting work early) to assist during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this blog, I explain the temporary register established by the HCPC to facilitate that process in respect of the 15 professions which it regulates.
What is the HCPC Covid-19 Temporary Register?
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Health & Care Professions Council (“HCPC”) has created a two-part Covid-19 temporary register, comprised of the Covid-19 Temporary Register and the Covid-19 Temporary Register (Students).
The Covid-19 Temporary Register is for all former HCPC registrants who have de-registered in the past three years, excluding those “subject to fitness to practise concerns in the past”.
The Covid-19 Temporary Register (Students) is for third/final year students on UK approved programmes of study, who have completed all their clinical practice placements.
All those added to the temporary register will be able to work in their former or future profession, using a protected title, without going through the usual process of applying to the HCPC for registration and making declarations as to their conduct and good character. In addition, no HCPC fees will be charged in relation to either limb of the register (whereas HCPC registrants normally pay a £180 retention fee every two years).
How do I join the Covid-19 Temporary Register?
You don’t! Rather than de-registered individuals or students needing to specifically contact the HCPC to join the temporary register, the HCPC will automatically add the names of all eligible persons to the temporary register. Inclusion on the temporary register does not impose any obligation to practise, so there is no need to be alarmed if your name is included on the temporary register and you wish to remain de-registered or a student. People nevertheless wishing to have their names removed from the temporary register can contact the HCPC via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The HCPC regulates 15 separate professions and is adding names to the temporary register in phases, based on the urgency with which different professions are believed to be required. Phase one includes Paramedics, Biomedical Scientists, Occupational Therapists, Operating Department Practitioners, Physiotherapists and Radiographers. Phase two will include Arts Therapists, Chiropodists/Podiatrists, Clinical Scientists, Dietitians, Hearing Aid Dispensers, Orthoptists, Practitioner Psychologists, Prosthetists/Orthotists and Speech and Language Therapists. Finally, phase three will include final year students from each of the above professions.
How will professionals on the Covid-19 Temporary Register be regulated by the HCPC?
People on the temporary register who actually go into practice will need to comply with the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance & Ethics. The HCPC’s Standards of Continuing Professional Development will not be enforced in relation to audit, but practising registrants must ensure that their skills, knowledge and experience are up to date.
In relation to fitness to practise, the HCPC has confirmed that, if a concern is raised about a registrant on the temporary register, that person will immediately be removed from the temporary register and the HCPC will not follow the usual fitness to practise process of investigating an allegation or giving the registrant any opportunity to respond. There is no right of appeal against a decision to remove a person’s name from the register, or indeed a decision to not include a person’s name in the first instance.
The only requirement will be for the fitness to practise concern to meet the HCPC’s triage test. This is, in the words of the HCPC, a “necessarily low bar”. In order to meet the HCPC’s triage test, a concern must simply be made in writing, be about a HCPC registered professional and relate to one of the five grounds of misconduct specified in the HCPC’s legislation. Those are misconduct, lack of competence, a criminal conviction or caution, adverse physical or mental health or a determination by another regulatory body, such as the CQC.
Are there any downsides to the Covid-19 Temporary Register?
In fitness to practise law, we often talk about the case of Bolton v The Law Society . In this case, Sir Thomas Bingham said “The reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member. Membership of a profession brings many benefits, but that is a part of the price”. In other words, being a respected HCPC registered professional is a privilege, but the price is the obligation to uphold the very high standards expected of regulated professionals. Via the Covid-19 Temporary Register, students and de-registered individuals are invited to assume the burden of practising as a regulated professional, but not getting the benefit of substantive HCPC registration, including the right for any allegation against them to be properly investigated.
If a student on the Covid-19 Temporary Register (Students) is removed from that register because someone submits a concern about them to the HCPC, will that concern be taken into account when the student comes to apply for their permanent HCPC registration? This kind of issue already arises in a small number of cases each year, for example when graduating students who have been involved in serious clinical incidents whilst on placement come to apply for HCPC registration.
It is important, before deciding whether to practise via the temporary register, to fully consider the best option for your individual circumstances and whether you can confidently meet both the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance & Ethics and the Standards of Proficiency for your particular profession. As the HCPC itself has emphasised “you can support the NHS in other ways such as by practising in an assistant role or under a non-protected title which reflects your current level of skills and knowledge”.
Do I need insurance?
Those returning to work for NHS bodies will ordinarily be covered under the NHS Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts or General Practice in respect of patient claims. Those returning to work for private providers need to check the arrangement in place with their individual employer.
Cover in respect of non-claims issues, such as fitness to practise or registration matters, is not provided under either of the NHS schemes mentioned, or under most private clinical liability policies.
Is this all definite?
Yes. The legislation enacting the HCPC Covid-19 Temporary Register is set out within the Coronavirus Act 2020, which came into effect on 25 March 2020. The temporary register will remain in place until such time as the Secretary of State advises the HCPC that a state of emergency no longer exists.
It is possible that additional relevant HCPC legislation will also come into force. A good comparison may be The Nursing and Midwifery Council (Emergency Procedures) Rules 2020, which came into effect yesterday (30 March 2020).