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Professional regulation and what it means

This section of the website gives the best information available at the time. For some groups, changes are in the pipeline. We strongly advise you to visit the relevant website for the professional organisation or regulator for the most up-to-date information.


What is a profession?

Some roles have special requirements in terms of skills, which you have to show you have before the employer thinks you can do the job. Sometimes, the amount and type of experience you have is more important than your qualifications. For some roles, you must have a profession before you can apply.

Professional roles have special requirements and standards. There are usually specific standards of training leading to specific qualifications before people can call themselves a professional. Professionals are able to use special letters after their names like RD for Registered Dietician or special titles, such as Registered Public Health Generalist Specialist.

To work in public health, health and social care or local government, you need to be of good character. Good character means being honest, ethical and respectful towards service users, at all times. You must care about the quality of service you help to give and truly want to help people.

Professional regulation

People who meet the standards for their profession are admitted to a register, a list held by the organization that governs the profession, called a regulator. A profession is statutorily regulated when law sets up the regulator, to protect the public. Find out more about the 14 health and social care professional regulators in the Health Professions Council's booklet called Who Regulates Health and Social care Professionals?

The General Medical Council (GMC) is the independent regulator for doctors in the UK. Nurses are regulated through the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), dentists through the General Dental Council (GDC).

Some professions have chartered organisations, such as the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the British Psychology Society. Statutory regulators and chartered bodies have the power to protect the titles of their professions. Therefore, imposters break the law. Regulators discipline professionals who abuse their position (e.g. by causing deliberate harm to patients or clients) or are unable to meet standards. The most severe sanction is to remove the person from the register: this means losing the ability to work in a given profession for a long time, perhaps forever. On the other hand, less harshly, regulators can prevent the person from working in a professional role for a while. Sometimes the professional can keep on working but only under specified conditions. Alternatively, if the person is sick, he or she can return to work after they recover.

Some professions are voluntarily regulated. These professions’ regulators cannot enforce their decisions by law. They rely on cooperation. Examples are the UK Public Health Register (UKPHR) for specialist in public health other than medicine, and the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists.

All regulators that are recognized by government, employers, students and the public play an important part in protecting the public and in raising standards.

Keeping up to date

All modern professional workers are expected to show that they keep their knowledge and skills up to date. They are expected to develop personal learning plans, undertake learning and training, and then reflect on their learning to show how it helps them to improve the quality of their practice and the services they provide. This is called continuing professional development (CPD). Regulators expect registrants to show evidence of their CPD in order to remain on the register, usually in the form of a portfolio. Standards for CPD may be stated in numbers of hours per year. Depending on the regulator, many standards state types of professional development with evidence of increasing skills or knowledge. Depending on the profession, a regulator may re-license – This means the worker stays on the register. Or the regulator may revalidate – This means, a worker shows he or she is still competent to work as a professional. This is called fitness to practice.

Professional associations

Most professions have associations as well as regulators. Professional associations promote specialist knowledge and skills. They help to set standards to keep their members up to date, through continuing professional development (CPD). They also set standards for education and standards for practice. They promote their professions, for example, Royal Society of Statistics. Some are trade unions. Examples include the British Dental Association and the British Dietetic Association.

For some very new roles, there may be no professional association. However, there is usually a more informal organisation or network, such as the Association for Public Health Observatories, the Association of Directors of Public Health or, for the Specialised Health Promotion Workforce.

Royal Colleges and Faculties

Royal Colleges and their Faculties act as the standard setting bodies for different professional groups. The Faculty of Public Health is the branch of the College of Physicians which sets specialist standards for public health through:

  • examinations
  • specialist accreditation
  • appraisal guidance
  • setting standards for revalidation
  • approving training placements and assuring quality of training
  • assessment of overseas doctors for sponsorship

For further information see the Faculty of Public Health website.

Changing roles, changing regulation

As workplaces change, so roles also change. Governments and devolved administrations in the United Kingdom encourage role flexibility to enable more choice and more services. Governments around Europe and the rest of the world want people to be able to move abroad to work more easily. Therefore, professional regulation is changing all the time. For example in 2009 the Health Professions Council took over the regulation of clinical and health psychologists. Click to go to the Department of Health's website and to check on new ways to regulate medical doctors, dentists and pharmacists plus other changes. 

Practitioner regulation

Public health practitioner regulation is under consideration. For more information and up-to-date news visit the UK Public Health Register (UKPHR) website.


What is accreditation

This is the process by which an external body assesses whether a course, qualification or training programme, service or individual meets relevant standards. If standards are met, the agency grants accreditation. Accreditation recognizes "fitness for purpose" i.e. that a course or person is suitable for the intended purpose. Accredited courses meet quality standards of an accrediting body, usually a regulator of standards in education or training or both. Most diploma, certificate, and vocational qualifications, National Occupational Standards and modern apprenticeships are accredited. Sometimes regulators and professional bodies accredit courses of study or training as well.

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