Thursday, 8 November 2012

Questions (329, 343)

Seán Fleming

Question:

329. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Health if he will take steps to ensure that the new registration fee for social care professionals which will be €295 is reduced and brought into line with the fees required for similarly paid qualified professionals like nurses €88 and teachers €65 and ensure that the Health and Social Care Professional Council, CORU, links its fees to those already prevailing in the health and education services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49210/12]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

343. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health if he will detail all costs associated with the full introduction of the health and social care professions legislation which are to be levied on individual workers; if he will provide a breakdown of same by profession; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that €295 per annum will be levied on individual social workers; his views on whether this is excessive in view of current financial constraints on workers and their families and in view of comparable fees for other professions, the steps he will take to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49293/12]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 329 and 343 together.

The Health and Social Care Professionals Council (HSCPC) and the 12 registration boards to be established under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 are responsible for protecting the public by regulating health and social care professionals. The Council (also known as CORU) was established in March 2007 and is working to put in place the necessary structures for registration, education and fitness to practise for the 12 health and social care professions designated under the Act.

The first registration board to be established, the Social Workers Registration Board, was established in August 2010, and the associated Social Workers Register opened for receipt and processing of applications on 31 May, 2011. A second registration board, the Radiographers Registration Board, was established on 16 December, 2011 and its register is expected to be established in the near future. Three further registration boards, the Dietitians Registration Board, the Occupational Therapists Registration Board, and the Speech and Language Therapists Registration Board are currently in the process of establishment and it is also proposed to establish the Physiotherapists Registration Board either before the end of this year, or in early 2013.

All of the registration boards for the remaining designated professions should be established and their registers fully operational by 2015 or 2016 at the latest.

Under the provisions of the 2005 Act, there is a two-year transitional period from the date on which the register of the members of that profession is established, during which existing practitioners may apply for registration. The name of every registrant will be published in the register, which will be accessible on-line. Only those registrants who have satisfied the registration board for their designated profession that they hold an approved qualification and are "fit and proper" to engage in the practice of the profession will be entered on the register.

The State is currently funding the HSCPC in its establishment phase (€1.937 million in 2012) and will continue to do so on a reducing basis to end 2015.

The Council which is an independent statutory body is responsible for setting the level of fees and in doing this it is mindful of the requirement for it to become self funding by end 2015.

The current fee structure is as follows:

- A registration fee of €100 for new graduates, who have obtained recognised professional qualifications within two years of applying for registration;

- An annual retention fee of €295 for registrants, including those who paid the lower rate on graduation, is payable on the annual renewal date.

Since the annual renewal fee of €295 is subject to full tax relief it reduces to €174 at the higher level of tax which compares favourably with fees levied by Union and professional bodies where no tax relief is applicable.

All health regulators are self funding by way of annual fee income. The greater the registrant base the lower the annual fee charged. Given the enormous registrant base in teaching and nursing, for example, the annual fee charged amounts to less than €100 per annum. Health regulators are single profession regulators whereas the HSCPC is charged with regulating twelve disparate professions, which can add significantly to operating costs. The twelve designated professions to be registered by the Council range in number from under 50 in the case of Clinical Biochemists to a high of 3,000 approximately for Medical Scientists and 5,550 for Social Care Workers, only amount to about 20,000 registrants in total across all professions. This is an extremely low registrant base when compared to a registrant base of well in excess of 60,000 for nurses.

The HSCPC is charged with extensive statutory functions under the 2005 Act, registration being only one, and the annual fee of €295 being charged by the HSCPC is considered the bare minimum required to enable the Council to operate. The fee is on a par with that charged by other health regulators and less than some in certain cases.

In response to concerns about the level of fee, the HSCPC has reviewed the regulatory structure to establish what scope exists for further reductions in registration fees and operational costs and has adopted the following measures:

- Where an existing practitioner with the necessary experience and recognised professional qualifications, or equivalent, pays the registration fee of €295 and is granted registration during the transitional period, also known as grand-parenting, the application fee will cover them for the remainder of the grand-parenting period and one full year of retention of registration after expiration of grand-parenting. This concession will only apply to existing practitioners availing of the transitional provisions set out in the Act;

- The Council has requested the HSE to put in place arrangements for the deduction of the registration fee from monthly salary thereby spreading the cost throughout the year;

- Finally, the Council has proposed significant restructuring of the way in which the designated professions will be registered and regulated to provide a more cost effective operating system. This will require the enactment of primary legislation in due course.