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Remove occupational psychologists from purview of Health Professions Council

Comment 8th July 2010
  1. The Health Care and Associated Professions (Miscellaneous Amendments and Practitioner Psychologists) Order 2009 should be amended to exclude occupational psychologists from regulation by the Health Professions Council.
  2. Government policy on occupational psychology should be handled by the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, who have the correct expertise to deal with it appropriately.

Why does this matter?

Some years ago, in response to established problems, the Government embarked on the introduction of statutory regulation of psychotherapists through the Health Professions Council, which regulates physiotherapists, chiropractors and a range of other professions complementary to medicine.  Mission creep led to a decision to extend this initiative to a range of other professions, including occupational psychologists.  This was done in 2009.    

Occupational psychologists were previously regulated by an effective professional body, namely the British Psychological Society.  They are not a medical profession. They do not offer psychotherapy, nor deal with children or vulnerable adults, nor with abnormal psychology.  Their practice is normally with organisations rather with individuals, and is concerned with issues such as motivation and performance, leadership, recruitment, organisational development, and the management of change – in summary, with the effective functioning of organised groups, rather than with health matters. 

Moreover, the character of their work closely mirrors that of HR professionals and management consultants, who have not been proposed for statutory regulation. Many of them work in small firms: the regulatory model imposed is burdensome, and damages their competitiveness in a competitive market. 

There are wider public issues.  Much of the work of occupational psychologists is on the skills agenda and talent management, areas where the UK has proverbially been weak for many years, and which has been accorded a higher and higher profile for urgent attention by Government.  It is argued that occupational psychologists, who have a rigorous scientific training, will often take a more evidence-based approach than do their competitors in HR and management consultancy.  There may therefore be a real danger that under the new regime the quality of consultancy advice to managers will deteriorate.  The potential is for it to become much more at the mercy of the winds of fashion which blow across airport bookstalls, and much less on a rigorous knowledge-focused approach built up over years by professional psychologists. The result could initially be poorer management decisions, and ultimately a less efficient and productive economy.

The Department of Health failed to justify its proposals to regulate occupational psychologists, and the streamlined legislation by Order in Council was enacted with little Parliamentary scrutiny. 

The Arculus Report on regulation remarked in 2005 "officials responsible for getting new pieces of legislation through the system rarely take an overview of the regulatory environment, but tend to concentrate on pushing ahead with their own proposal in isolation" (page 39).  It can be argued that that observation fits the current situation well.  Clumsy decision-making handed this issue to the Department of Health, which knows little and cares less about a non-medical profession such as occupational psychology.  Its field is that of the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, and policy in this area should dealt with by that Department.

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