I thank the Chairman and committee members for inviting us to talk about the draft regulations to be made by the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, designating the professions of counsellor and psychotherapist under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005. The Houses of the Oireachtas are being asked to approve two sets of regulations. The Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 4(2)) (Designation of professions: counsellors and psychotherapists and establishment of registration board) Regulations 2017 will designate the new professions of counsellor and psychotherapist under the Act and establish one registration board for both professions, each with its own register. The Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 4(7)) (Membership of Council) Regulations 2017 are consequential to the first set of regulations. The designation of two new professions will create two new professional positions for the professions of counsellor and psychotherapist on the Health and Social Care Professionals Council. The regulations will increase by two the number of lay positions on the council to ensure a continuing lay majority.
I will comment briefly on the background to the regulations. They represent an important step in implementing the decisions of the Minister for Health that the professions of counsellor and psychotherapist be regulated under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 and that each profession have its own register under one registration board. These decisions were taken on foot of an initial consultation with the Health and Social Care Professionals Council, followed by a wider public consultation process which generated over 80 submissions.
The Act provides for the protection of the public by promoting high standards of professional conduct, education, training and competence through statutory registration of designated health and social care professionals. There are 14 and the addition of counsellor and psychotherapist will bring the number to 16. Under the Act regulation is primarily by way of registration of practitioners and the statutory protection of professional titles. The use of protected titles is restricted to practitioners granted registration under the Act. Registrants must comply with a code of professional conduct and ethics and are subject to fitness to practice rules similar to those which apply to nurses, midwives, doctors, dentists and pharmacists. The structure of the system of statutory regulation comprises registration boards for each profession, a committee structure to deal with disciplinary matters and the Health and Social Care Professionals Council which has overall responsibility for the regulatory system. These bodies are collectively known as CORU.
Registers have been established and titles protected for seven of the ten registration boards appointed. This represents 13,000 registrants of a potential 25,000 and more likely 30,000 registrants when all designated professions are registered. The remaining three boards of the ten appointed are actively working towards establishing their registers as soon as possible. They include social care workers, medical scientists and psychologists. It is intended to have two more registration boards established in the second quarter of this year, one being the podiatrists registration board and, subject to obtaining the approval by the Oireachtas of the regulations before the committee, the other the counsellors and psychotherapists registration board. This will leave the remaining designated professions of orthoptist and clinical biochemist to be progressed before work concludes in the regulation of all professions designated under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005.
Counsellors and psychotherapists are not designated under the Act. They assist people with psychological, emotional and-or mental health issues. There is concern that, in many cases, there is no statutory oversight of their competence and conduct and that some practitioners lack the qualifications and professional training needed to work with such vulnerable clients. The regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists under the Act will ensure those registered will have minimum qualifications, that only registrants will be entitled to use the title or titles protected under the Act and that registrants will be subject to a range of sanctions, including suspension or cancellation of registration, in the case of a substantiated complaint of professional misconduct or poor professional performance.
The legal position is that section 4(2) of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 provides that the Minister for Health, after consulting the Health and Social Care Professionals Council and having given other interested parties an opportunity to make representations to him or her, may designate a health or social care profession that has not already been designated if he or she considers that it is in the public interest to do so and if specified criteria have been met. Section 4(8) of the Act provides that regulations may be made under section 4 only if:
(a) a draft of the proposed regulations has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, and
(b) a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House.
Subject to the approval of the Houses, the next steps will be to make the regulations to designate the professions and appoint the 13 members of the registration board following the submission of suitable candidates for the Minister’s consideration by the Public Appointments Service. Once the counsellors and psychotherapists registration board has been established and its members appointed, the board will be asked to advise the Health and Social Care Professional Council and the Minister on some of the outstanding issues to be decided. They include the professional titles to be protected by regulations under the Act and the qualifications that ought to be required of existing practitioners in order to register.
The registration board will also commence drafting the various by-laws to allow it to establish its registers. They will include by-laws relating to the approved qualifications that will be required of future graduates. Following the opening of the register, there will be a two-year transitional period to allow existing practitioners time to apply for registration and satisfy the registration board that they meet the requirements for the profession.