Wednesday 3 October 2012
Despite being technical in nature, this Bill is very important. The thrust of the point I wanted to make in respect of the issue of psychotherapists and counsellors has been made by Deputy Neville. The Government should introduce an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage because, speaking as someone who has been a director of adult education, who himself has gone through the process of engaging with health care professionals in terms of counselling and who meets people every week in the most vulnerable and critical stages of life, it is imperative that such professions be included as a matter of urgency to protect both the person attending for service and the professional person concerned. This sector, which has been addressed in all the contributions thus far, should come under the regulation of the Act because in the modern era, statistics show there has been an explosion in people’s use of psychotherapists and counsellors. This is the reason it is important to regulate the sector. As the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is aware, and as many speakers have indicated, it is those who are most vulnerable and who are in need of service who are engaging with the professional services. Consequently, those who are practising and holding themselves out as counsellors and psychotherapists must be regulated. They should be properly qualified and trained and, equally, they should be held to account to the very highest of professional standards. This is the reason I believe they should be included. I understand the reason they could not be included in the original provisions of the Bill because, regrettably, agreement had not been reached between the professional organisations. However, I understand agreement has been reached since publication of the Bill and Members must now proceed, as a matter of urgency, with the inclusion of such people in the statutory registration scheme as so doing would allow for continuity of service and would give people a sense that a professional service is being delivered, as is the case.
This legislation is very important. It is about reform and driving home that the Government is taking a different type of approach in respect of health care and health care professions. The Bill includes a list of health and social care professionals and it is important to consider which occupations have been so included. The list includes biochemists, dieticians, podiatrists, psychologists, radiographers, social care workers, social workers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, medical scientists and clinical biochemists, all of which are professions that bring a standard of professionalism to the delivery of care. These professions provide services in the health model to those who require a service. The reason the Bill is so important is because it is about the people who interact and those who engage with and use the service. Again, one must consider those who work in the health care service and I join Deputy Coffey in congratulating and complimenting those health and social care professionals who work in our service. As Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children and someone who has been involved in the HSE’s southern regional health forum for many years, I see at first hand the huge volume of work being done each week. Those who criticise people who work in the health sector must pause for a moment to consider what has been done, the continuum of care and the quality of service. Moreover, those who criticise the Croke Park agreement fail to recognise that as a consequence of it, there has been a change in the nature of work and in the work practices to the betterment of those who use and need the service. This is the reason this legislation must be viewed as a protection of both the health and social care professional and of the user, that is, of the person who requires the service. This is the reason the issue of competence and qualification is so important. I have witnessed people setting up practice as pseudo-psychotherapists and pseudo-counsellors. Such people are not regulated and lack the same degree of competence and qualification as others. This practice must be examined, reviewed and changed because those who come into contact with them do so because they need to be given a sense of hope and a sense of being listened to. Such people need to have their lives changed in terms of what they do and the engagement they have.
If one considers this Bill in the context of its aims, the Minister should indicate the reason it has taken four years to have all this changed. Why have only two boards been established? What was the previous Administration doing since 2000? Why was there no joined-up thinking or progression? As the legislation before Members is about introducing reform, I believe they should be made aware of the reasons reform has been delayed. Was there resistance to reform? Is there resistance to change or has the allocation of resources been sufficient? The other area of importance concerns the issue of fitness to practice and this must be considered in the context of this Bill because there is a need to implement a registration system whereby a fitness to practice regime is in place in which complaints, inquiries and disciplinary proceedings must be commenced. This is linked to reform, accountability and transparency, which, in the professional, modern world now obtain in all aspects of life and which should happen here. As other speakers have noted, health and social care professionals deal directly with people and the errors that are made for whatever reason have a profound and serious impact and profound and serious effects. It is very important to have in place a system to deal with any problems which may arise with regard to such professions and professionals. Moreover, in the interest of those of us who use such professions and professionals, this must be included as part of the Bill. I greatly look forward to amendments to the Bill being introduced on Committee Stage. The Bill is much needed and is long overdue. I welcome its publication and I hope the Minister of State will listen to the contributions made by Members.