16 November 2015

What happens at a fitness to practise hearing?

Your six-point guide to the Health and Care Professions Council’s (HCPC) hearing process.

1. The panel

The three-strong panel considering the case will be led by a Chair. The Chair may be a lay person or from one of our professions. They will be joined by a lay person, who is not registered with us, plus a registrant from the same profession as the person being investigated.

Panels of the Conduct and Competence Committee consider allegations that a registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, lack of competence, or a conviction or caution for a criminal offence. Panels of the Health Committee consider allegations that registrants’ fitness to practise is impaired by reason of their physical and/or mental health.

2. Public or private?

Hearings are usually held in public. This means that members of the public (including the press) can attend. Hearings may sometimes be held or part-held in private if there is confidential information involved. For example, if the panel thinks they need to protect service user confidentiality, the registrant’s private life or that of any witnesses.

Even if a hearing is held in private, any decisions the panel makes and the reasons for them, still need to be publically available.

3. Considered factors

In deciding whether a registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, the panel will take into account factors including:
  • Whether they have ignored previous warnings
  • Whether they have taken action to correct their behaviour
  • Whether they have insight (understanding of the harm caused)
  • The link between their conduct and their profession
  • Whether their behaviour has undermined public confidence
  • Whether they have not met our standards of conduct, performance and ethics
  • Whether they are likely to repeat the behaviour

4. Possible sanctions

If the panel finds the case against the registrant is well-founded, there are a number of actions they may take or sanctions which can apply:
  • Take no further action or order mediation (a process where an independent person helps agree a solution to any issues)
  • Caution order (place a warning on the Register for between one to five years)
  • Conditions of practice order (setting conditions which must be met, e.g. working under supervision or further training)
  • Suspension from practice (for no longer than one year)
  • Striking-off order (registrant’s name will be struck from the Register which means they can no longer practice)

5. Timescales

The time a case takes to reach the end of the process can vary depending on the nature of the investigation, how complicated the issues are, and the availability of parties to give evidence to the panel. We understand that it can be stressful when an FtP concern is raised, and we will provide you with an idea of how long our enquiries will take at each stage of the process. 

In 2013-14 the length of time of cases referred for a hearing to conclude was an average of 17 and a median of 14 months from receipt of the allegation. Continuing to analyse the length of time cases take to conclude has enabled us to identify a number of early triggers that can be used to predict the impact on the lifetime of a single case, and the overall system.

6. Appealing a decision

Registrants can appeal against the panel’s decision if they consider it is wrong or the sanction is unfair. The appeal is heard by the High Court in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, or the Court of Session in Scotland. In 2013-14, seven registrants appealed the decisions made by the Conduct and Competence Committee. To date, two appeals were withdrawn by the registrant, three were dismissed by the court, one case had a substituted decision and one is ongoing.

For more information about fitness to practise hearings watch our YouTube video or visit www.hcpc-uk.org/complaints/hearings/atthehearing


  1. As someone who represents registrants at such hearings, it is my view that the HCPC fails to tell registrants who are subjected to hearings that it is a quasi judicial process and they will find themselves substantially, in fact supremely disadvantaged, if they are not represented by a person with a substantial legal understanding. Panels, the HCPC solicitor and the Legal Assessor use and cite case law from other areas of the legal system, mostly from the higher courts up to and including the European Courts, to derail, obstruct or object to the registrant simply wishing to put their version of events forward in the manner that they have chosen. A registrant who attends a hearing unprepared for this will find the whole process descends into confusion as they are told they cannot do things but are unable to understand the reasons put to them as to why not. This becomes even more muddy when the panel chair has no legal experience at all as there then becomes mission creep where the Legal Assessors effectively takes over the running and direction of the hearing. Often the Legal Assessor themselves sits as a judge on HCPC and other regulatory body proceedings and it becomes forseeable and inevitable that they will switch modes, sometimes without realising it and the hearing ends up with two Chairpersons. The HCPC is entirely resistant to any form of criticism so attempting to challenge the manner in which it conducts itself would not be a good use of time. My advice to any registrant having any contact with the HCPC is ALWAYS communicate in writing, never by telephone. The office staff are extremely inefficient and lack knowledge and training. You have a record of anything and everything said if you limit your communications to written form. DO NOT attend the hearing unrepresented. Ensure your representative has a good understanding of law otherwise you may find yourself very quickly overwhelmed as you find yourself facing at least two qualified lawyers, three if the Chair of the hearing is also a lawyer, none of whom are on your side. ALWAYS demand a copy of the transcript of the hearing and if the hearing does not go in your favour, submit that transcript to a qualified lawyer. The system is further loaded against you as to appeal against a HCPC decision means you have to appeal to the High Court where only qualified lawyers have the right to speak. This will be prohibitively costly to a Registrant who was on Band 5 wages. Ensure you obtain insurance which provides representation at the HCPC and the High Court. If your union does not provide this it will be sensible to purchase another policy which does cover you. The only saving grace you have which you did not have when the HPC first came into being, is that there is now a member of your own profession sitting on the panel. Fortunately the days of a Paramedic being judged by an Arts Therapist are now over.

  2. Its a shame the HCPC were not remotely interested in the nefarious activities of 5 social workers and a Guardian who was supposedly SS registered who remain in dubious practice