A blog from our new Board member Juliet Oliver.
It is an absolute privilege for me to be joining the Board of the Professional Standards Authority.
I recall when the Authority was set up, around the same time as I joined the General Medical Council (GMC) as one of the first members of its then newly established in-house legal team.
A key focus for the GMC at that time was the Shipman Inquiry, and the questions it raised regarding the role of regulation in protecting patients and confidence in health professionals. I was closely involved in responding to the issues, designing and drafting its fitness to practise procedures to, amongst other things, strengthen the independence of regulatory decision-making from the medical profession, and improve transparency for complainants and respondents in the process. My role at the GMC over the years also involved developing the rules for medical revalidation; introducing ongoing checks of clinical competence and processes for bringing together and addressing concerns at a local level.
Working alongside the Authority as it brought its first section 29 appeals and developed its processes to review the performance of regulators and check the quality of regulatory decision-making, I was keenly aware of its work safeguarding the protection of the public - and its influential role in introducing and embedding concepts, such as right-touch regulation, now familiar to regulators across healthcare and other sectors.
The Authority now oversees a wider range of services and professionals than ever, with 60 different occupations covered by its accredited registers programme, alongside its work with the 10 statutory regulators. And perhaps it has never had more important a role to play. We are part way through an exceptionally difficult winter for health and social care with heavy demands on services, and the cost of living and workforce crises, taking their toll on dedicated individuals delivering essential care. The Authority’s recent report, Safer care for all, sets out many of the current pressing challenges. These include tackling inequalities within the workforce and for professionals, patients and users of services alike; and the fast pace of change in the way care is funded and delivered, which brings new innovations and opportunities but also potential risks and impacts for patients.
I am keen to work with the board in helping to meet these challenges. I bring with me cross-sector experience of regulation in fields such as law, accountancy and chartered surveying – as well as from my work with a number of regulators across health and social care. I also have an appreciation of the frontline delivery of care and experience working with providers and member organisations, from my early years as a healthcare lawyer to the present day.
In my current role as General Counsel and Executive Director at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, I have been working to understand the link between workplace culture and the safe, competent and ethical delivery of legal services, to address rising levels of stress and mental health issues in the legal workforce as well as counter-inclusive behaviours such as discrimination and sexual harassment. This has included thematic work to review current practices within firms and designing new standards targeting workplace behaviours and the treatment of colleagues, alongside resources to promote a healthy work environment and speak up culture.
I am also leading significant initiatives supporting the adoption of legal technology and innovation. I see this as key to ensuring a diverse and effective legal sector, able to deal with complexity and change not least through exploring new ways of working which increase access to affordable legal services and tackle the problem of unmet legal need. We have had real success in delivering projects funded by the Government’s Regulators Pioneer Fund, for example a chatbot that helps people to understand and exercise their social care rights, focused on people with learning disabilities.
However, as a regulator, in doing so we need to get the balance right; to ensure that the risks for users of services are fully understood and addressed and key ethical safeguards are maintained.
One way to do this is through sandboxes and pilots. As part of the LawTech UK regulatory response unit, and through its own Innovate platform, the SRA has helped start-ups and innovators to navigate regulatory issues around handling client information, and to ensure that systems build in appropriate accountability for regulatory compliance. A recent collaborative pilot on unbundled services looked at the way tasks can be broken down between law firms and their clients and how technology can help to navigate respective responsibilities and ensure tasks are completed correctly.
Regulatory guidance and resources can also help to raise awareness of opportunities and risks. We have published compliance tips and FAQs for the responsible adoption, use and monitoring of new technologies, including AI - as well as highlighting red flags, for example surrounding traceability of funds when handling cryptocurrencies.
I strongly believe that regulation can play a key part in addressing the challenges of the future – supporting professionals through times of uncertainty and change whilst maintaining a sharp focus on patient safety and strong ethical values and principles. I look forward to joining the Authority as it continues on this journey.
Find out more about our Board here
and the announcement of Juliet's appointment here