CHILD ABUSE SCANDAL : Indecision over bid for social services council

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Health ministers remain undecided on whether to introduce a general social services council to provide statutory registration for individuals working with children, the elderly and disabled which would allow those who abuse their clients to be struck off.

John Bowis, the junior health minister, has said he has "an open mind" on the issue. But a commentary the government plans to publish on the issue is likely only to canvass options, not provide outright backing for the idea.

Work on revising the central index which the Department of Health maintains of individuals who employers believe should be debarred from working with children is still not complete eight months after it was commissioned. Mr Bowis announced a review of it last August after the Islington child abuse cases demonstrated its ineffectiveness.

But a report on what should be done - and whether employers should have new rights of access to criminal records - has still not reached his desk.

On the broader issue of registration, ministers are understood still to be undecided whether to go for a statutory council rather than a voluntary registration scheme. Key questions about which groups of staff a statutory council should cover remain unanswered.

The department is currently considering two reports - one from the National Institute of Social Work and a study of the issues that need to be addressed before a council is set up that was commissioned from the management consultants Price Waterhouse. Ministers plan to publish them, together with their own commentary on the options.

Support for a formal registration system - in effect some form of general social services council modelled on the lines of the General Medical Council and its nurses' equivalent, is growing, with past opposition from local authority employers and the growing private sector reducing.

Sussex Health Care, a private nursing home group, said yesterday that it believed a registration system may now be needed after employing as a care assistant a former nurse who had been convicted of rape but did not disclose that on his application form.

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