All 1 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock contributions to the Professional Qualifications Act 2022

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 25th May 2021

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
2nd reading
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Professional Qualifications Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I declare my interests as a registered nurse and the work outlined in the register that refers to my use of that qualification.

As the Minister explained, the Bill will create a new framework for the recognition of professional qualifications gained overseas and steps to reform regulatory practice in the UK. I acknowledge that the current system for professional regulation, derived from membership of the EU, requires revision and I support the concept that it is necessary to create a new framework that will apply globally, while also recognising many of the challenges that other noble Lords have outlined in relation to successfully achieving the outcome the Bill outlines. Government would be provided with a set of powers that enable agreements with regulators to recognise professional qualifications and to maintain an assessment centre, with which regulatory bodies must co-operate to provide advice and guidance to the public on standards for any profession. UK regulators would also be required to provide overseas regulators with reciprocal information regarding UK-qualified registrants, and to provide information on entry, exit and practice requirements for the professions they regulate, particularly, as other noble Lords have referred to, academic qualifications. Where devolved Administrations within the UK have separate regulators, reciprocal information will need to be supplied between the four countries.

There are 160 professions and more than 50 regulatory bodies that would be covered by the Bill. I intend to use nursing as an optic to illustrate the need to amend the Bill to ensure that public safety and fair terms of employment are maintained when the Bill is enacted.

The Bill is part of the Government’s plans to ensure that lack of information is not a barrier to entering and practising professions, of which nursing and midwifery are examples. However, just knowing what is expected and conducting a digital application against the published criteria for registration is not enough. To maintain public safety and deliver individualised, compassionate care, it is necessary to demonstrate practical competence in nursing skills and a full comprehension of the English language, including technical terms and mathematical concepts; for example, to estimate and safely deliver oral and injectable medication.

At the very minimum, the Bill needs to make explicit provision that regulators may put in place processes to measure competence to determine knowledge and skills over and above the stated qualification as an additional step to gain UK registration. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that such an approach will be required reciprocally by most countries. It certainly will be in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will support any such amendments so that the Bill safeguards patient protection and that only professionals who are safe and fit to practise are able to join UK health professional registers, including those for nursing and midwifery?

Finally, we know that there are many professions in the UK in which we have acute and long-term skills shortages, particularly in nursing. Clause 2(1) and (2) make provision for an “appropriate national authority” to speed up recognition of overseas qualification recognition where skills shortages occur—or at least this is my understanding; perhaps the Minister can clarify the situation. The Bill contains nine delegated powers and is being presented to the House prior to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House making a full assessment of its effects. Can the Minister confirm that time will be made for all relevant committees of this House to review the Bill before enactment to ensure that public safety is protected?

Globally, there is a severe shortage of nurses, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The UK needs to educate and retain UK-qualified nurses through excellent training at degree level and good terms of employment. To deliver health and social care the UK must not return to an overreliance on recruiting overseas nurses but welcome those who wish to come and register in the UK and enable our own nurses to have reciprocal opportunities to work in other countries. I remain very uncomfortable that we are recruiting nurses from India with the state of the pandemic there at the moment.

The recruitment of nurses and other health professionals from lower- and middle-income countries, where terms of employment are often poor, must not result in artificially low terms of employment for UK health professionals. Can the Minister assure the House that this is not a hidden intention within the Bill and that ongoing monitoring of terms of employment will be conducted by the Government to ensure that the Bill does not have that unintended consequence?