IMPACT slams new €295 annual “employment tax” on social workers and other health professionals

IMPACT today (Tuesday) said a €295 annual registration fee, due to be imposed on social workers and 11 other professions from next year, is a “tax on employment.” Speaking at a Dublin conference attended by over 400 health and social care professionals, IMPACT official Christina Carney vowed that the union would “do whatever is necessary” to get the registration fee reduced. She compared the cost with annual registration fees of €88 for nurses and €90 for teachers.

Ms Carney said IMPACT strongly supported the introduction of statutory registration, which would help deliver best practice, high quality health services, and the maintenance of outstanding professional standards. But she said the cost of registration had been set too high. IMPACT is currently advising already qualified social workers – the first profession subject to the new arrangements – to postpone their registration until the dispute over fees is resolved. Unregistered social workers will be legally barred from practicing after 31st May 2013.

Statutory registration will require individual professionals to register before they are permitted to practice in the State. It will also introduce new fitness to practice procedures that could see practitioners struck off the register for professional misconduct, poor performance, criminal conviction, or impairment due to illness including alcohol or drugs dependency.

Professions covered by statutory registration will include social workers, social care workers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists, chiropodists/podiatrists, clinical biochemists, dietitians and orthoptists.

“Statutory registration fees of €295 a year represent a tax on employment. It is possible to find a solution that’s acceptable to all. But we will not settle for the fees at their current, unfair, level, and we will do whatever’s necessary to achieve a just outcome. We remain in discussions, but if this is not resolved satisfactorily we could find ourselves in dispute. Time to settle this issue is running out and I advise the Minister not to underestimate the resolve of these professionals,” said Ms Carney.

Ms Carney said IMPACT had also put arrangements in place to ensure that its members can be properly legally represented if their fitness to practice is questioned after statutory registration is introduced. “You cannot have effective registration of a profession without the ability to exclude those whose actions or judgements render them unfit to practice. You cannot properly protect the public if those deemed unfit to practice continue to do so. Nevertheless, all practitioners are entitled to fair procedures and due process and IMPACT has put a package in place to ensure its members are guaranteed all necessary legal advice and representation for free in fitness to practice situations,” she said.

Speaking at the conference, barrister Rosemary Mallon said the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 defined poor performance as “any failure of the registrant to meet the standards of competence that may reasonable be expected of registrants practicing that profession.” She outlined five possible sanctions if complaints against professionals were upheld:

  • An admonishment or a censure
  • An attachment of conditions to his or her registration, including restrictions on the practice of the designated profession
  • The suspension of his/her registration for a specified period of time
  • The cancellation of his/her registration
  • A prohibition from applying for a specified period for restoration to the register.

Ms Mallon said that even minor breaches of professional codes of conduct could be considered misconduct and she advised health professionals to seek advice from their trade union if complaints were made against them.  “Once a professional becomes aware that a complaint has been made against them I would strongly advise them to immediately seek advice. The importance and value of immediately contacting your union cannot be overestimated. Your union will on a very basic human level provide you with support. On a practical level your union will also be able to guide you through the process and offer advice on the course of action you should take. Complex legal issues and/or procedural issues may well arise when a complaint is made,” she said.

Clare Treacy of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation outlined her experience of dealing with complaints against nurses, who are already subject to statutory registration. She said the number of complaints was increasing year on year and warned that professionals were responsible for their legal costs, which could be as high as €10,000 a day in complex cases, even if a complaint against them was dismissed. She also pointed out that complaints could arise – and be upheld – because of activities outside the workplace. “We can all agree that regulation is positive to ensure the public is protected and our professions are held in high esteem. However, the trend indicates that more and more professionals will be subject to complaints for a variety of reasons. Therefore it is important that professionals ensure that they are professional and legally supported in defending their actions and decisions,” she said.