Increasing Regulation Literacy: public engagement in health regulation

16 July 2020

Increasing Regulation Literacy: public engagement in health regulation

At Traverse we have a growing bank of experience of working together with health and care regulators. Through our work we have heard from a broad range of people including patients, the public, stakeholders, partners and other regulators. Our work has involved understanding perceptions about regulators; how the voice of people who use services can be valued and heard by regulators; and what people see as important strategic aims and values for regulators.

Jessie Cunnett joined us in December 2019 as our head of health and social care following two years working as Head of Public Support at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). We asked Jessie to share some of her insights and learning about how the public relate to the work of the health and care regulators.

‘I have a confession to make… having worked for 22 years to promote, support and advocate for people who use health and care services to have a strong and meaningful role in the way health and care is planned for and provided, I hadn’t really had any contact with or much real understanding of what professional health and care regulators actually do. Following my time at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) it is now perfectly clear to me why it is important for people to know about the professional regulator role and for the regulators in turn to recognise and value how their work relates directly to people using services.  

The thing is, when I told people I was going to work for the NMC, I quickly realised that lots of people - who I have worked with and alongside for many years - also didn’t really know what the professional regulators did or why it mattered to people who use services. This led me to consider why this is the case and to what extent it matters. At some level there is an assumed acceptance that the health services and the health professionals we meet in the delivery of care are fit and able to do the job and that there are systems in place to make sure this is the case. As the saying goes, ‘you don’t board an aeroplane without assuming the pilot knows how to fly it.’ But in reality our general understanding about the role of regulators to set standards, maintain registers of those who meet the standards and deal with it when standards fall below the expected level is very low.. and yet, quite rightly, we expect safe, high quality care to be provided at all times.’ 

The regulatory landscape in the UK is a crowded space. Across health and social care in England there is the CQC, responsible for regulating the quality of services and there are nine regulators who are responsible for the different professions. We know from our recent work with several of these regulators that each one – to varying degrees – is tracking and raising awareness amongst the general public about their work.

One of the common themes for consideration across our work with regulators is the level of general awareness amongst the public about the role of health and care regulation and to what extent it is important to raise levels of awareness for each regulator. To help us articulate this relationship between the public, regulators and the concept of regulation we have begun to see the merit of increasing regulation literacy across the board.  

Increasing the levels of understanding about regulation – about what it’s for, what it does and how it works - would provide reassurance to the public that there are systems in place to ensure safety and quality in the health services they use. It would also help the public to know better when it is appropriate to seek assistance and information from a regulator. Collective effort on this front might create more of step change in public awareness and could free up the individual regulators to focus their time and resources further on developing relationships with those who have a direct and active interest in their specific area of work.

If there is sufficient interest among regulators, Traverse would happily lead a discussion about approaches to increasing regulation literacy. We’ll be able to feed in insights recent research and engagement with patients, members of the public and stakeholders on this topic. Please contact Jessie Cunnett if you’re interested in joining the discussion.

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