Statutory registration of healthcare informatics staff in four years is the target for a new voluntary regulator launched this week.

Meanwhile the UK Council of Health Informatics Professions   (UKCHIP) intends to build its register and encourage employers to ask for registered staff when they advertise jobs and draw up job descriptions.

UKCHIP president, Dr Glyn Hayes, explained: “Registration will be voluntary but the aim is that over a period of time we develop to a point where we get a statutory register and we register with the Health Professions Council (HPC).”

He said the HPC, the registration body for 12 allied health and health science professions, had advised that the process was likely to take four years.

UKCHIP states two reasons for its formation: first, to improve the safety of healthcare information systems by ensuring that those designing, implementing and managing systems are appropriately qualified and second, to improve the credibility and status of people working in UK health informatics.

Hayes said: "I would argue that to be a professional you have to work to professional standards but you also have to agree to be judged by those standards."

Registration costs £20 a year and is open to healthcare informatics professionals including staff working in ICT, health records, knowledge management, information management, clinical informatics and research and education.  Senior managers and directors of services and managers, clinicians, administrative staff and commercial suppliers with a major involvement in health informatics are also eligible.

The council will also be able de-register any registrants who fail to meet the standards it is developing for professional conduct.  The UK-wide nature of the body holds open the prospect of eventually being able to ensure that a de-registered person will be prevented from slipping across borders and between trusts to work in other parts of the NHS. However, this level of regulation, achieved by most clinical professions, will require mandatory registration.

Launching UKCHIP, Lord Hunt, chairman of the National Patient Safety Agency and former health minister responsible for information technology, voiced his support for the move to regulate informatics professionals and said: “We are embarking on a great adventure in information in the health service.  I’m confident it will be very successful. It will have a huge impact on the quality of care and on improving the safety of patient care.”