16 April 2018

The HCPC’s Fitness to Practise Process explained

Fitness to Practise (FTP) proceedings can be both personally and professionally daunting for everyone concerned. We know because of the feedback we receive from those involved in the process and from talking to registrants and employers when we meet them at HCPC events. This article is intended to address some of these concerns by explaining simply and clearly what happens when a concern is raised, the types of issues we deal with and what support is available.

What is fitness to practise?

When we say a registrant is ‘fit to practise’, we mean that they have the skills, knowledge and character to practise safely and effectively. The vast majority of our registrants are doing just that, with only 0.64 per cent subject to FTP concerns. This is mirrored in the high levels of public trust and confidence enjoyed by professionals on our Register – 91 per cent in our most recent polling. 

Importantly, the process is not designed to punish registrants for past mistakes, it is there to protect the public from those who are not fit to practice.  This also includes acts by a registrant, which may affect public protection or confidence in the profession, or the regulatory process.

This may mean that they should not practise at all, or that they should be limited in what they are allowed to do. Some registrants make mistakes that they are unlikely to repeat. Our processes do not mean that we will pursue every isolated or minor mistake.

Who can raise a concern?

Anyone can raise a concern about a registrant, this includes the public, registrants themselves, employers and service users. The police can tell us about criminal proceedings against a registrant if they decide there is a pressing social need.

What constitutes a concern?

We consider every case individually. However, a registrant's fitness to practise is likely to be impaired if the evidence shows that they were dishonest, committed fraud or abused someone’s trust; exploited a vulnerable person; hid mistakes or tried to block our investigation; had an improper relationship with a service user; carried out reckless or deliberately harmful acts;  were involved in sexual misconduct or have been violent or displayed threatening behaviour.

What happens when a concern is received?

Every case is considered individually. HCPC review the concern to decide whether it’s an issue, we can deal with. If it is, we will open a case and assess the available information to decide whether it meets our Standard of acceptance (SOA). If the concern doesn’t meet our SOA, the case closes and there is no further action. If it does, HCPC will go ahead with an investigation. At any stage of the process we can apply for an interim order if we believe it will protect the public or the registrant themselves. This could prevent the registrant from practising or place them under conditions of practice until the case has been closed.

What happens when a concern is investigated?

We will gather other relevant information about the concern and once there is enough information, HCPC will draft a formal fitness to practise allegation. We send the allegation and the information we have gathered to the registrant. They then have 28 days to respond.

The investigating committee

The details are then passed to a HCPC Investigating Committee Panel. The Panel will decide whether there is a ‘case to answer’. The meeting is held in private, as is set out in the HCPC legislation, and their task is to look at the paper evidence and decide whether the allegation can be proven. The Panel can decide that they need more information, there is ‘no case to answer’ or there is ‘a case to answer’ – and will give reasons for their decision.

The hearing

If there is a ‘case to answer’, it will proceed to a hearing managed by the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS).  At the hearing, the registrant or their representative will have an opportunity to challenge the allegations made by the HCPC. They can tell their side of the story, question the HCPC's witnesses, give evidence and call their own witnesses. The HCPTS panel carefully consider each case and make a decision on whether the facts are proved, whether the registrant’s FTP is currently impaired, on what grounds, and what (if any) sanction will be imposed. Each Panel is independent and includes a Partner, who is a representative from the profession of the registrant.

What powers do the panel have?

The panel can do a number of things:
• take no further action or order mediation
• caution you (place a warning against your name on the Register for between one to five years);
• set conditions of practice that you must meet (for no longer than three years);
• suspend you from practice (for no longer than one year); or
• strike your name from our Register (which means you cannot practise).

After the hearing

The HCPTS will send the registrant a copy of the Panel's decision. The registrant may appeal against the decision if they think it is wrong or unfair. An appeal must be lodged within 28 days of the hearing. Appeals are made directly to the High Court in England and Wales, the High Court in Northern Ireland or, in Scotland, the Court of Session.

Support and talk

We know FTP proceedings can be stressful. For this reason, we have a range of resources available to support registrants – this includes guides on what to expect, what the purpose of FTP is, adjournment information and scheduling processes.

You can also contact your professional body or union who will be able to assist further.

Find out more information:
What happens if a concern is raised about me?
The fitness to practise process – information for employers and managers
Standards of conduct, performance and ethics

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