The Department of Health (DH) expects to launch a consultation on whether the existing nine health regulators should merge into a single body.

This would mean that over one million healthcare staff would be overseen by the same regulator, which could potentially result in changes to standards, fitness to practise, and fees.

This possibility is just one of several proposals to reform healthcare regulation that will be consulted on during 2017.

Another possibility will be to join "high street" health professions, including pharmacy and optometry, under a single regulator, with another body for doctors and nurses, and a third body to regulate other professions like podiatrists and physiotherapists.

It has been estimated that a merge could save 15-18% of the £200m annual cost of regulation, which equates to a saving of £30-36m a year.

"Waiting to see"

General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) chief executive, Duncan Rudkin said: “We have been engaging constructively with the UK government, the devolved administrations, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) and the other regulators during discussions on the future of health professional regulation.

"We are waiting to see the government’s full proposals in their upcoming consultation, and will continue to contribute to the debate and to share our vision of what regulation can and should achieve for patients and the public.”

"Reform is vital"

The PSA, which oversees the nine healthcare regulators, says that reform is "vital".

Director of standards and policy, Christine Braithwaite said: "Professional regulation is out of step with modern healthcare. In our paper Regulation Rethought, we suggest regulators should consider sharing functions and merging, if savings can be made for registrants.

"We recommend that health professionals should meet common standards, in keeping with multi-disciplinary care today. We also recommend the creation of a single, shared public register instead of nine separate ones, to make it easier for the public and employers to access it."