Professionalism with a heart, not regulation, will make a difference to health care

20th Whitney Lecture, Poole Hospital, 9th November 2016

Harry Cayton CBE, Chief Executive of the Professional Standards Authority

Harry Cayton delivered an impassioned 20th Whitney lecture on the 9th November 2016 at Poole Hospital.   His lecture, entitled, ” Rules, regulations and professionalism in a time of uncertainty” called for regulation to have a heart, enabling professionals to have the scope to deliver health care with kindness.

The difficulties with regulation to improve health care were explored including the inevitable fact that human choices will nearly always override regulations.  Harry also recognised the issue of information overload, citing the numerous regulations and guidelines that exist to support the delivery of compassionate health care, including the 17 guidelines on writing guidelines.    He mentioned the impossible task to keep up with the sheer amount of specialist published papers but the importance of acting on the right knowledge.  “In a world of information overload it is impossible to keep up with all papers published but it is essential to be able to navigate knowledge”- a  task that library and knowledge professionals assist with by searching, synthesising and summarising knowledge to make it digestible.

The lecture moved on to discuss compassion and asked the question – can we regulate for compassion?  Harry thinks not, as compassion has to be a morale duty and given as a gift.  You have to use the values that already exist and try to move them as close as possible to the ideal  of compassionate care .  The 290 recommendations resulting from the Francis inquiry into Mid Staffordshire are not immediately memorable but the emotional impact of what happened is powerful and has made a difference.


Harry outlined the eight elements of Right Touch Regulation, to ensure  ” that the level of regulation is proportionate to the level of risk to the public”.  One of the issues with regulation is that it is always general whereas problems and failures are always specific.  So regulation does not help to deal with failure and problems but adds to the already large burden.   Professionals need resilience to find a path between real empathy and the distance needed to deliver healthcare –  Henry Marsh explores this challenge perfectly in his bestselling book “Do No Harm” – copies available from the library.  Change is inevitable, hard and scary but prevention of harm cannot just be about rules and regulations, in fact regulation tends to keep things the same and stifle innovation and change.   What regulation can do is encourage space for kindness and good judgement professionalism, and this is regulation with a heart.

Harry concluded with a plea for health care professionals to engage in the debate about regulation and to stop seeing it as something done unto them and instead shape a more informed and workable solution.






3 Responses

  1. thanks Alison, best wishes, Jon.

  2. Shame I missed this, was this widely publicised?
    I would love to have gone to this lecture. Some professional bodies from the healthcare science disciplines take a different view to that of the PSA with regards to regulation, and it would have been great to have shared this different opinion! I would also have liked to have asked about how easy it is to regulate homeopathy in the same way as nuclear medicine, as the PSA do.


    • Hi Jon

      Thank you for taking an interest in the post. The Whitney Lecture is an annual event organised by the Director for Medical Education. Your contribution would have been valuable and I am sorry you were unaware of the event. I will pass this information on to the organiser.

      Kind regards


      Alison Day
      Lead Librarian
      Poole Hospital

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