Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2017: Order for Report Stage

I move: "That Report Stage be taken now."

This Bill is relatively short and technical containing a total of nine sections. It passed Committee Stage on 11 July last, without amendment. The Bill will amend the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 and has three main purposes. It will address gaps that have been identified relating to the appointment of professional members to the Health and Social Care Professionals Council and to registration boards.

It will permit a registration board to apply training and education conditions to applicants for registration who are qualified for a specified period of time but have not yet practised their profession, and it will amend the Act to allow me to implement decisions taken last year that will result in the protection of the title of physical therapist for the exclusive use of those granted registration by the Physiotherapists Registration Board. These decisions were taken following a consultation process and were welcomed by the professional bodies concerned.

I thank Deputies for the valuable and thoughtful contributions made on Second and Committee Stages. Deputies had proposed a number of amendments on Committee Stage. All except one related to the Bill's provisions to permit the registration of qualified users of the title of physical therapist in advance of the proposed protection of that title for the exclusive use of registrants. During the debate, I said that the Department would, before Report Stage, engage further with the two professional bodies involved, the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists, ISCP, and the Irish Association of Physical Therapists, IAPT, on the provisions that were of particular concern to them.

I also undertook to consider the possibility of addressing the concerns of both bodies in ministerial amendments that could be tabled on Report Stage. On that basis, Deputies withheld their amendments and I thank them for providing me with that space. Over the summer recess, and following meetings and correspondence between Department officials and representatives of the ISCP and IAPT, it was agreed that the outstanding concerns of the two professional bodies would be adequately addressed by amendments in two main areas. These related to the codes of professional conduct and ethics that are adopted by registration boards and to the assessment of professional competence for existing practitioner users of the title of physical therapist. The Department also undertook to review concerns about the closing date for applications from current students and recent graduates of the Institute of Physical Therapy and Science, IPTAS.

The Report Stage amendments to the Bill that I will be proposing have been drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and address these three issues. The first three amendments amend section 5 of the Bill to provide that the codes of professional conduct and ethics adopted by registration boards must specify that registrants act within the limits of their knowledge, skills, competence and experience. The next five amendments amend section 6 of the Bill. They are drafting amendments to clarify and put beyond doubt the provision in the Bill that 31 December 2019 is the closing date for applications for IPTAS students and recent graduates. The final amendment amends section 6 of the Bill to remove the reference to the IPTAS qualification from the Bill's provision relating to the assessment of professional competence for existing practitioner users of the title of physical therapist.

I sincerely thank both professional bodies for their very constructive engagement with the Department to resolve these issues and progress the Bill to this Stage. I also thank the officials. I think we have found a solution and a way forward that satisfies both bodies.

I would also like to take the opportunity to briefly update the House on plans to regulate the professions of counsellor and psychotherapist under the Act. This was discussed during Committee Stage in the context of an amendment tabled by Deputy O'Reilly related to crisis pregnancy counselling. I thank the Deputy for her consistent advocacy on this issue. The Act provides that the Minister for Health may, following a consultation process and with the approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas, make regulations designating a health or social care profession not already regulated under other legislation if the Minister considers it in the public interest to do so and if certain specified criteria have been met. We are already far advanced on this process in the case of proposals to regulate counsellors and psychotherapists. The various consultations have been concluded and my Department has recently submitted the first set of necessary regulations to the Houses of the Oireachtas for their approval. These regulations will designate the professions under the Act and establish a registration board for the two professions.

Subject to the approval of the regulations by the Houses, the next step will be the appointment of the 13-member registration board. Twelve members will be selected following the submission of suitable candidates for my consideration by the Public Appointments Service. The 13th will be nominated by the Minister for Education and Skills. I expect that the registration board will be in a position early next year to begin its workload. It will be tasked with advising me and the Health and Social Care Professionals Council on some of the outstanding issues to be decided. These include the professional titles to be protected by regulation under the Act and the qualifications that ought to be required of existing practitioners in order to register. In tandem, the registration board will begin the process of drafting the various by-laws needed to establish its registers and to commence each register's two-year transitional period. Title protection will come into effect after these transitional periods when only those granted registration by the board will be entitled to use the protected professional titles. All Deputies raised the idea of people going around calling themselves counsellors and psychotherapists and giving out at best extraordinarily dubious and at worst very dangerous and simply untrue advice on crisis pregnancy. I accept that, for good reasons, the legislation provides that implementing proposals to regulate new professions involves a detailed journey but I think Deputies will agree we have made a good start.

I trust and hope that this Bill can now proceed to the Seanad with a view to enactment by the end of the year. It is important that we get this legislation enacted by the end of the year because the sooner its provisions are commenced, the sooner the title of physical therapist can be protected by regulation for the sole use of registrants. Early enactment of this Bill will also allow me to make overdue appointments of professional members to the Health and Social Care Professionals Council and to registration boards, and will permit registration boards to apply additional training and education conditions to qualified applicants who have not yet practised their profession. I hope Members on all sides will see that since we met on Committee Stage progress has been made on each of the issues discussed, and agreement has been reached with both of the professional bodies on how to proceed regarding physical therapists and physiotherapists. Regulations have been laid before this House and the Seanad on how we move to regulate counsellors and psychotherapists.

Question put and agreed to.