Regulating Regulators


The GSCC (General Social Care Council) is a mess. That’s pretty much confirmed. It was set up to regulate social care workers and plans to roll out the registration of all workers in the social care sector has stalled with the registration of qualified social workers and social work students. Apparently it is improving but that might be fudge.

The Guardian today has an article explaining the lack of will for any roll-out. Due less to the incompetency of the GSCC (although that has been proved) but due to a mish-mash of government directives. And it doesn’t make a pretty sight for a government that is struggling by on its last legs and joins a heap of discarded promises in the trash bins of Whitehall. Although I doubt many will care too much about the lack of registration of care staff in the mix of a general election, it is an indication of muddled thinking all round.

Back to the GSCC though. Having suspended her Chief Executive, Mike Wardle, back in July after the enormous administration problems came to light and the weight of the backlog of conduct cases came to light, has again come under the spotlight as the CHRE (Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence) has reported that the GSCC deliberately stalled investigations of poor conduct in order to save money – as is reported in Community Care

The most damning evidence came from GSCC conduct officials, who told the CHRE they felt pressurised by their managers from 2007 onwards not to proceed with cases for financial reasons, “regardless of the public protection implications”.

The existence of a backlog of cases was “well known at all levels” of the organisation but the council, the regulator’s strategic body, failed to take action because it did not understand the implications of the failures.

Even the the Department of Health was aware of the situation, and council members said they believed the DH had approved the management decision to allow cases to remain unprocessed.

I think that pretty much speaks for itself. I am completely in favour of regulation, for the record. I think it would be beneficial for the registration of social care staff to be rolled out although that looks nigh on impossible at this point.

What is disappointing is the lack of input of actual social workers in the GSCC. The social workers on the council might have practiced for a few years decades ago before moving to strategic management or the ivory towers of academia but there are few bodies that represent truly the social work values inherent and necessary for front line practice.

The irony is that the GSCC can remove the registration of a  social worker for building up a backlog of cases and failing to complete vital work to schedule and ensuring it was allocated when looking at their own systems, they hardly did any better themselves.

However, there does need to be regulation of that there is no doubt. The profession functions better and with more public faith than the previous process of anyone being able to term themselves ‘social worker’ whether qualified or not and allows some kind of admonishment for poor practice by removal from the register and barring someone from practising as a social worker.

But the implementation has along the line, been poorly thought out and poorly executed – from the initial registration process which was hopelessly organised through trying to get every single social worker to register within a short period and now, of course, all those who were registered in the very first wave, come up for renewal at the same time, leading to a backlog again. I wonder if there would have been a better way of organising registration – by some complicated system such as alphabetical order…

I wonder about the role in ‘improving social work education’ too. We have stories of universities desperate to fill places even though they are not able to provide appropriate placements for all the students on the course. The PQ (Post-Qualifying) Framework takes at least a postgraduate degree in the first place to try and understand the processes of Specialist/Higher Specialist/Advanced Social Work – which are the three levels of PQ award.. I’m not sure how proud the GSCC can be about setting up the ‘new’ degree in 2003 when various more recent reports, not least that of the House of Commons’ Select Committee for Children’s Services have found the training of social workers currently not fit for purpose.

So we are left with a quango that has little moral authority writing the guidelines for conduct of a social care staff who are obliged to pay for the privilge of retaining a registration.

Hope remains though as it always does that criticism and wide, public criticism, at that – will instigate changes in the processes and workings – to become more transparent and dependable as an organisation. There is no alternative.  Apart from moving to Wales or Scotland…

7 thoughts on “Regulating Regulators

  1. Another strange thing is that Ofsted, which has been attacked recently for its quality of social care inspections, does not require its inspectors to be registered with GSCC. This is because, I presume,
    so many inspections were carried out by inspectors with a background in education, and as the management of Ofsted is dominated by these people, they felt that to require GSCC registration would discriminate against them. I also understand that you are not allowed to call yourself a “qualified social worker” unless you are registered with GSCC.
    So when Ofsted replies to the recent criticisms of its inspections
    “Ofsted said it had already invited directors to nominate senior and experienced staff to take part in inspections. It also maintained that all inspectors involved in unannounced inspections were qualified social workers”, it is technically breaking the law and being economical with the truth.

  2. I’m a social work student in my second year. I’m yet to meet a social worker on placement. =)

  3. Andrew – That’s a great point – I haven’t really kept up with what OFSTED has been up to
    Starsparkle – I think that’s an awful shame – it makes one wonder about the placements that are being offered..

  4. I dont think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. clearly conduct stuff was a seriously badly managed problem but not all parts of the organisation are bad and there are a lot of people there working really hard and with a passionate commitment to improving safety for social work clients and we should recognise that.

    The degree was built in very close consultation with employers. it also has only had two full cohorts. rather early to be trashing it and in my opinion it is good enough at qualifying level. do employers expect way too much of newly qualified staff?

    finally on the important issue of social workers at the GSCC. The GSCC was set up in the wake of the Bristol and Ayling inquiries when staff had protected their own. it was a clear decision – consulted on at the time that the GSCC would be there to look out for ‘the public’ and not the practitioner. clearly they got the balance wrong on accessing professional knowledge and expertise but it was a call and one I think they made for the right reasons and I wouldnt want to see that principle thrown out because it hasnt worked as well as it was intended to. the conduct function must never be seen to be about ‘protecting’ social workers and again, dont throw the baby out with the bathwater – get it right rather than trash it altogether.

  5. I can’t really comment much on the placements other than to say that this isn’t an unusual occurrence. Many of my colleagues have also not met a social worker, two placements into the course.

    We’re promised this will happen during our final placement… we shall see!

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