The number of health regulators in the UK could be slashed under plans to replace a "confusing, inconsistent and slow" system.
The nine regulators currently covering healthcare workers including doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, optometrists and paramedics, could be reduced to as little as three under plans to overhaul the regulatory system.
A new consultation from the Department of Health states that there is "no clear rationale" for the current number.
Some regulatory bodies have large numbers of registrants and others have relatively few, it adds.
The consultation, which will run for 12 weeks, suggests that regulatory bodies are efficient when they have more than 100,000 registrants.
But five of the current bodies regulate smaller numbers.
"There is no clear rationale for the current position of having nine regulatory bodies," the document states.
"In order to simplify the system, foster greater consistency and reduce costs, the four UK governments believe there is need for radical change.
"The four UK governments would be keen to understand what form a system containing a reduced number of regulators (possibly to three or four) might take."
Ministers are seeking views on whether the current number should be reduced.
A graph in the report shows that the General Medical Council (GMC), the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) are all well above the 100,000 threshold.
The General Dental Council has almost 100,000 registrants.
The five which have fewer than 100,000 registrants are: the General Chiropractic Council, the General Optical Council, the General Osteopathic Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.
The consultation document - which states that from the perspective of patients and the public, the current system of regulation can be "confusing, inconsistent and slow" - also has proposals to give regulators more autonomy over which healthcare professionals will face fitness to practise hearings.
For instance, the GMC could not simply strike disgraced surgeon Ian Paterson off its register. Despite his criminal conviction, the regulator still had to adhere to full fitness to practise procedures in order to formally remove him.
The document states that regulators are "hampered by a legislative framework that is in parts more than 150 years old and with outdated procedures that have not kept pace with changes in the health and social care system."
The consultation is also seeking views on the creation of a single, searchable register for all healthcare professionals.
Health Minister Philip Dunne (pictured) said: "We want the NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world and robust professional regulation is a crucial part of this, giving patients confidence that they are receiving the highest quality care.
"However, the current regulatory system is not fit for a modern healthcare service like our NHS - that's why we want to understand what needs to change to make it clearer and simpler for the regulators and healthcare professionals, and to ensure patients have the best possible protection."
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: "Our current legislation is woefully outdated and prevents us from being the modern regulator we want to be.
"This consultation is a very welcome first step towards delivering the wholesale changes that we need to enable us to protect the public in the most effective way possible."
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, added: "As it stands the legal framework is too prescriptive and makes many of our processes slow, inflexible and heavy-handed.
"We have done what we can to modernise the way that we work, such as reducing the number of unnecessary investigations, but the current law is a roadblock preventing further improvements.
"What we need is legislation that allows us to be swift and efficient in carrying out our primary duty, keeping patients safe, while reducing the burden on doctors."
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved.