Fitness to practise is a standard that all the major healthcare regulators expect of their members. It incorporates the requirements to have the right professional knowledge, capabilities and health to be able to work safely at a high standard. A medical professional who is ‘fit to practise’ is one who can be registered with the relevant body without any restrictions or conditions.
Regulatory fitness to practise investigations occur most commonly as a result of allegations of misconduct that have been made against them by someone like a patient or colleague. However, poor performance, a criminal conviction or caution or ill health can also lead to an investigation. In some cases, a decision made by a different regulatory body can also have this consequence.
Notification of a fitness to practise investigation can come as a surprise to many registrants, especially when the investigation pertains to something that happened in their personal life. It is common for registrants to question the relevancy of such an allegation, especially where it doesn’t appear to have an impact on their ability to carry out their professional work.
However, an important element of fitness to practise is the requirement to maintain the public’s confidence in the profession. Actions that are deemed to have brought the profession into disrepute can be investigated under the umbrella of fitness to practise.
Organisations with fitness to practise processes
We can work with registrants of every major healthcare regulator, all of whom conduct fitness to practise investigations. To find out more about specific processes, click on the relevant link below.
Who does the MedicAssistanceScheme work with?
We can work with any healthcare professional who is facing allegations regarding their fitness to practise. We’re happy to work with anyone, from students and trainees to specialists who have been working in their field for years.
The earlier you get in touch with us, the more we can do to help you, but we can offer advice (or representation where appropriate) at every stage of an investigation, from the first letter notifying the registrant right through to appealing a previous decision.
“Marie Dancer helped me tremendously during my fitness practice hearing. She prepared well for our session, read the documents, and prepared a fantastic defence for each and every point, whilst maintaining honesty. I would recommend her to anyone facing a medical school FTP and couldn’t have asked for a more value for money or better experience.”
Who could make a complaint against you?
Fitness to practise investigations are often (though not always) instigated by a complaint made against the healthcare professional. Common sources include the registrant’s colleagues, their patients or service users and employers. The police can also make the complaint.
In some circumstances, an investigation can be initiated not by a complaint from someone else, but by the registrant’s own fitness to practise declaration.
The stages of a fitness to practise investigation
- After an allegation has been made, the regulatory body will make an initial enquiry. They will write to you to inform you that this is happening. This first letter will contain an invitation to respond, but there is no compulsion to do so.
- The regulatory body will proceed to investigate the allegations. This involves taking statements from witnesses, collating other evidence and talking to relevant parties. You should be kept up to date with the progress of the investigation. At the end of this stage, you will be required to provide a written response to any allegations made.
- In order to decide whether or not the case needs to be referred to a full fitness to practise hearing, it will be looked over by either an investigating committee or case examiners. Our fitness to practise solicitors have years of experience preparing written representations at this stage, with the aim of avoiding a full hearing.
- If the regulator decides that a hearing is necessary, the registrant will be notified and the hearing will normally be scheduled to take place within 6 months.
What happens during a hearing?
Every regulatory body has a decision making panel, normally made up of three members. Using their regulator’s fitness to practise guidance, the panel will look to find a resolution to the case.
Whilst each hearing tends to look a little different, they normally keep to three distinct stages:
- The panel will look for the facts of the case based on the evidence given to them. They will attempt to determine whether the allegations can be proven;
- If the allegations are found proven, the panel will then assess whether or not the registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired;
- If an impairment is found, the panel will move on to determining what the appropriate sanction is.
What does it mean if fitness to practise is impaired?
The reasons for impairment are fairly standard across all regulators:
- Your are judged to present a risk to patients;
- Your actions have brought the profession into disrepute;
- Your actions constiture a breach in one of your profession’s fundamental tenets;
- Your integrity has been compromised;
- It is necessary to act in the public interest.
What sanctions can be imposed as a result of a hearing?
Unlike the criteria for impairment, sanctions are more changeable across the different regulators. However, common sanctions include:
- A warning or caution;
- Conditions imposed that restrict the registrant’s practise to within certain boundaries;
- Suspension for a specified period of time;
- Removal from the register.