Voluntary registration of healthcare assistants (HCAs) is a step in the right direction, but should be replaced by a system of compulsory regulation in the long term, an influential group of MPs has said.
The cross-party Health Select Committee concluded: 'In the longer run, only independent professional regulation will provide the best assurance to patients.' It cited the increasing number of HCAs providing care to patients in their own homes as an example of why tighter regulation is needed.
RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter (pictured) agreed the government's plans for voluntary HCA regulation would be insufficient to guarantee consistency and safe practice.
'We believe it (mandatory regulation) is vital to patient safety and reducing the current variability in the training they receive,' he said.
Chair of the committee, Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell, added: 'Current education and training arrangements are complex, inflexible and unfair. This complexity makes it more difficult to change the way care is delivered and respond to the needs of patients; the NHS needs much more effective arrangements for planning and training its future workforce.'
The report also criticised the lack of detail in government plans to reform education and training across the NHS. These involve the creation of Health Education England, which will oversee training and education on a national level, and Local Education and Training Boards, which take responsibility for medical education and training from deaneries.
The Health Select Committee welcomed the changes, but said ministers had been 'slow' to develop coherent plans, warning that much about the new system remained 'vague and indeterminate'.
'The government urgently needs to provide more clear and detailed information about how these bodies will operate and work together in the new system,' the committee said.
Dr Carter said: 'We have serious concerns that medical education is likely to dominate Health Education England. It is therefore essential that as the largest workforce group in the NHS, the role of nursing is given due consideration as the government bottoms out the detail of these plans.'