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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 November 2007, 11:48 GMT
Super-regulator to oversee health
Hospital staff
The new regulator will be able to shut down wards
The government plans to establish a new super-regulator to oversee health and social care in England with powers to fine hospitals and shut down wards.

The Care Quality Commission will have a beefed up remit to inspect and intervene at failing hospitals.

It combines the functions of the existing Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission.

The Health and Social Care Bill will also bolster professional regulation.

Ministers say the new super-regulator is a key part of the government's drive to ensure safety, cleanliness and high quality in health and social care services.

The aim is to increase public confidence in services, and to deliver a consistent approach to regulation across providers from all sectors.

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the new system was a "definite move in the right direction".

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the independent think tank the King's Fund, said: "The new commission is good news for patients.

"In spite of significant improvements in many aspects of care, there is still real concern about the safety and quality of some services.

"This is a sensible and constructive step to help build confidence in some of the most vital public services.

"However, we will still have to see the details. Given the wide range of providers covered by the new commission it will be a challenge to find a set of common standards appropriate for both health and social care."

Doctors concerned

Plans for a revamp of professional regulation will see regulatory bodies required to use the lower, civil standard, rather than the criminal standard, of proof when investigating wrongdoing.

This could potentially see doctors struck off the medical register on the "balance of probabilities".

Dr Hamish Meldrum, British Medical Association chairman, urged the government to think again.

He said: "The BMA is keen to ensure that patients are protected from the small minority of doctors who represent a threat to patients.

"However, if a doctor is at risk of losing their livelihood then surely nothing less than the current criminal standard of proof will do."

The government pledged to introduce a tougher system for regulating health professionals in the wake of the Shipman case.

Former GP Harold Shipman is thought to have killed as many as 250 of his patients.

Another proposal contained in the bill would force healthcare organisations to appoint a "responsible officer" to work with the General Medical Council on cases of poor professional performance by doctors.

Fertility update

Ministers also plan a bill to update the law on fertility treatments and research, which has been in place since 1990.

This will include provisions to recognise same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos.

It is also likely to give the green light for the use of animal-human hybrid embryos in research.

A Green paper will be published exploring options for reform in social care.

Ministers want to reduce the dependency of those who rely on social care systems.

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