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Regulating the health care workforce: next steps for research

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This article explores the recent ferment surrounding professional self-regulation in medicine and other health professions. It reviews the academic literature and sets out an agenda for research. The first section considers definitions, acknowledging the particularly complex regulatory maze in UK health care at present, in which professional self-regulation is only one part. The second section reviews academic writing, currently dispersed among the disciplines. ‘The logic of light touch regulation’, a feature of the 19th century establishment of the General Medical Council, can perhaps shed light on present debates. Alongside the intense political spotlight on regulation in the wake of the Bristol case, consumer-led research and consumer pressure to rethink the principles of regulation has emerged. This is examined in the third section. Finally, themes for research are advanced. First, there is a need to explore the changing relationship between the state and professions and implications, not only for the professions but for health care more broadly. Second, calls for a new professionalism need to be given clearer content. Third, the moves towards more lay involvement in regulatory bodies need study. Fourth, questions of human rights and professional registers must be explored. Fundamental questions of what professional self-regulation can hope to achieve and where it sits in relation to government ambitions as a whole, remain unresolved. Alongside the work programme of the new overarching regulator, there may well be scope for a new style of public enquiry covering the whole territory of regulation.

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