On 1 July 2021 HCPC increased the threshold level of qualification to degree level for Operating Department Practitioners (ODP). 

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) said a consultation earlier this year showed support for the increase and aligned with HCPC’s own goals of service user safety and the advancement of the ODP profession. 

HCPC Guidance on the change

What does this mean?

The first of the standards of education and training (‘SET 1’) sets out the level of qualification required for entry to the Register for each of the professions we regulate.

Our standards of education and training ensure that applicants to the register can meet their standards of proficiency and practise safely and effectively as soon as they are registered.

HCPC has taken the decision to increase this threshold. This means that, from 2024, we will only approve ODP education programmes at degree level. This decision will not affect currently registered ODPs, or any ODP who completes a diploma level programme before 2024. 

Key dates

  • 2 July 2021: No new programmes below degree level can register with the HCPC (this does not affect existing programmes).
  • 2 July 2021 – 31 August 2024: HCPC assists education providers who want to provide ODP programmes at degree level.
  • 1 September 2024: Diploma level programmes are no longer approved.
  • 1 September 2024: Students beginning an ODP course after this date will have to complete a degree level course to enter the register when they graduate. This does not affect ODPs who have already completed their education before 2024 – who can still apply as before.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the level has increased from Level 5 to Level 6 (using the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications) while in Scotland the change will be from Level 8 to Level 9/10 (using the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework).

Why did the HCPC make the change?

This change is not a new issue and was raised in a 2014 paper presented to HCPC’s Education and Training Committee. The paper quoted the Council of Deans of Health which argued that “the changes to ODP practice, changes to the clinical environment and new expectations for future roles suggest that there is a strong case to move the educational threshold from DipHE to BSc (Hons) on the grounds of patient benefit.”

We had been monitoring the issue closely since then and a number of stakeholders approached HCPC to highlight the increasing complexity of ODP roles across the country – a trend which was accelerated by COVID-19.

The increase to SET 1 ensures that the education of ODPs is keeping pace with the increasingly complex roles ODPs play in our health and care system. This is a positive development for the profession and for the safe and effective treatment for service users.

How does this impact existing registrants?

This a change which will affect future applicants and does not impact existing registrants.

Regardless of the qualification you had when you entered the register, you will be able to continue to practise and HCPC will not require you to undertake additional training. 

How does this impact existing students? 

There will be no impact on existing students, even if you are on a diploma programme. The vast majority of ODP programmes in the UK are offered at degree level and therefore already meet the new threshold. Diploma level programmes that are currently approved will also still grant students eligibility to join the Register. 

Changes to SET 1 will only affect to those who begin to study after 1 September 2024 – by this date we will only be approving degree level programmes.

Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.

Stephen McCaffrey

I am a HCPC Defence Barrister who has represented a large number of health and care professionals before the HCPC and other regulatory bodies in either first instance proceedings or appeals. 

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