In March 2016 the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) held its annual conference for health professions regulators in the rather grand setting of Windsor Great Park. The theme this year was ‘Regulating for Positive Outcomes’ and it was an opportunity for regulators to take some time away from day to day operational activity and take stock. Sessions included ‘revalidating for positive outcomes’, ‘turning negatives into positives’ and ‘using data for positive outcomes’. An overarching question was – what are regulators actually for and how well are they delivering?

We were particularly struck by a presentation by Tim Walker of the General Osteopathic Council who argued that, at the moment, the vast majority of a regulators’ resources, time and efforts are focussed on a tiny part of the system which involves a tiny proportion of professionals – fitness to practise – instead of focussing on the ‘hinterland’ of everything that comes before that. He presented a version of Vickers’ Appreciative Systems model which is based on the premise that ‘the process of managerial decision-making, consists of a regulative process in that the individual must seek to maintain relationships instead of only being goal-seeking orientated.’ Linked with this, relational regulation, continuous engagement and building trust were themes running through other presentations, not least the General Dental Council’s presentation on their online patient and public panel which is run by Community Research.

Another recurring theme was an exploration of the unintended consequences of regulation, whereby the actions of regulators to improve standards or protect the public can have undesirable consequences. This was the theme of our joint presentation with the GMC on some recent research we conducted on their behalf on the impact of warnings and restrictions (click here for the full report) and also other presentations about the system of complaints resulting in defensive practice.

Overall the conference was extremely thought-provoking and demonstrated that the sector is committed to evidence-based policy making and to continually challenging itself in terms of its values, goals and practices. We’re delighted to be working in such a fascinating and evolving sector.

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