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Approach to fitness to practise investigations and hearings

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) statement of approach to fitness to practise investigations and hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic

The HCPC is the regulator of 15 professions that provide health and care services. Our role is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public, and maintain and uphold proper professional standards for the professions we regulate[1]. During this exceptional and uncertain time we are committed to continuing to fulfil our statutory duty to protect the public, whilst acknowledging that our registrants will be working in ever more demanding circumstances. We also acknowledge that those who raise concerns with us are also impacted by the changes to our way of life brought about by the pandemic.

This statement sets out how we will undertake fitness to practise investigations and hearings in this period, as well as the changes we have introduced to our usual fitness to practise processes.

Receiving new concerns and ongoing investigations

We will continue to receive and promptly triage any fitness to practise concerns, prioritising those matters that may require an interim order to protect the public.

The management of new and ongoing fitness to practise investigations will continue as normal, following the proportionate, fair and transparent approach set out in our Threshold Policy for Fitness to Practise Investigations. A copy of the Threshold Policy can be found on our website. As set out in the joint statement of Chief Executives of statutory regulators of health and care professions, we will take account of the challenging circumstances registrants are working in at this time when assessing fitness to practise concerns.

Our aim is to progress investigations as efficiently as possible. We recognise that the NHS and other organisations are operating under pressure and we will therefore extend our usual timeframes for the receipt of information from third parties. We may also decide on relevant cases not to seek evidence or information from the NHS or other healthcare organisations at this time. This decision will be informed by the particular circumstances of each case, including its risk profile.

There may also be additional delays to the progression of investigations as we manage with a reduced staff and outside of our normal office environment.

Concerns about professionals on the COVID-19 temporary register

On 25 March 2020 the Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force in the UK. The Act gives new emergency powers to the Registrar of the HCPC temporarily to register a person as a member, or a group of persons as members, of a relevant profession[2], if the Secretary of State advises the HCPC that an emergency has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur[3].

The Registrar has also been given the powers to remove an individual from the temporary register, including where the Registrar suspects that an individual’s fitness to practise may be impaired. The HCPC’s normal fitness to practise process does not apply to individuals on the temporary register.

Our Statement of Approach to the Removal of Registrants from the COVID-19 Temporary Register sets out how we will assess and consider concerns we receive about an individual on the temporary register. It also explains our wider approach to removing individuals from the temporary register for other reasons.

Any concern we receive about a registrant on the COVID-19 temporary register may be taken into account should that registrant apply for permanent registration with the HCPC in future.

A registrant on the temporary register may use the protected title of the profession they are practicing in, for the duration of the time they remain on the temporary register or until the temporary register is closed.

Service of notices and sending correspondence

The Health Professions Order 2001 (the Order) and Panel rules requires the HCPC to serve notice of fitness to practice proceedings on registrants by post[4].

In line with current UK government advice to work from home, we are no longer accessing our offices in Kennington, London. As such, it is no longer practicable for us to follow our previous processes for the service of notices by post in all circumstances. In order to be able to continue core fitness to practise activity as described in this statement service of notices will be done electronically. From Monday 23 March 2020, all notices, correspondence and documentation will be sent to registrants by email, to the email address they have registered with us. The only exception to this is Notices of Allegation, which will be sent by post and email.

It is therefore essential that registrants ensure that their registered email address is up to date. This can be done by logging into their MyHCPC account.

Where we do not have an email address for a registrant we will contact the registrant to obtain one. In exceptional circumstances where a registrant does not have, or we cannot obtain, an email address we will serve notices, correspondence and documents by post using a third party provider.

Where a registrant has a nominated representative we will also serve documents by email to that representative.

We recognise that registrants may encounter challenges to obtaining representation and/or to providing their submissions to any of our practice committees within the usual statutory timeframes. Where a registrant requires additional time to provide their submissions they should contact the fitness to practise department on the email address below as soon as possible. We will consider each request for an extension of time on a case by case basis, taking into account the current circumstances affecting each registrant.

We will correspond with other parties by email only. Where parties to a case cannot correspond by email and reasonable adjustments to communicating with the HCPC have been made these will continue.

Investigating Committee Panels

Investigating Committee Panels will continue as usual, though these will be held remotely rather than at our offices in London.

Fitness to practise hearings

The current pandemic necessitates that hearings should be undertaken in such a way as to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19, avoid any unnecessary delays and ensure that public protection is upheld. Social distancing and other restrictions mean that we are unable to hold as many physical hearings as would have taken place before the pandemic. We are mindful of the need to maintain hearings to avoid delays, and therefore will also use remote or hybrid hearings to ensure fitness to practise cases can be heard expeditiously.

A remote hearing (sometimes referred to as a virtual hearing) is a hearing held by telephone or video link.

The Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service have published Remote Hearings Guidance, which sets out in detail our approach to holding hearings, and sets out the factors we will consider when deciding how a hearing should be held. It also explains what may happen if a party to a case disagrees with the holding of a remote or hybrid hearing. A copy of the guidance can be found on the HCPTS website here.

We recognise that being involved in a fitness to practise hearing can be stressful for our registrants, and that being involved in a hearing at this time may cause additional anxiety. Information about the help and support available to registrants can be found on the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service website

Contacting the Fitness to Practise department and the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service

We currently have reduced access to our offices in Kennington, London. Our ability to receive and process incoming mail is therefore limited and we will not be able to acknowledge receipt of documents sent by post or respond to postal queries within our usual service standard. We request that new referrals, correspondence or other documents are sent by email wherever possible. Please let us know if you require any reasonable adjustments to support you in contacting the HCPC and we will work with you to accommodate these.

The fitness to practise department can be contacted by phone on 020 7840 9814 or on Freephone 0800 328 4218, or by email at ftp@hcpc-uk.org.

The Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service can be contacted by phone on 0808 164 3084 or by email at tsteam@hcpts-uk.org.

Support and guidance for our registrants during the COVID-19 pandemic is available in the COVID-19 hub on our website. 

 

The HCPC will keep this approach under regular review.

Next review due by: 30 November 2020

[1] Article 3(4) and (4A) of the Health Professions Order (2001) states that the HCPC’s over-arching objective is to protect the public, and sets out how this objective should be pursued. 

[2] For these purposes the relevant professions are the 15 professions regulated by the HCPC.

[3] Paragraph 2(2) Schedule 1 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 adds a new Article 9A to the Health Professions Order 2001, providing powers for temporary registration in emergencies following the loss of human life or human illness. The Act allows individuals, or people in a specified group of persons, to be admitted to the existing HCPC register temporarily. For clarity, we will refer to those admitted to the register temporarily as being on a temporary register.

[4] HCPC (Investigating Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003; HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003; HCPC (Health Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003.

 

Version 6. 8 October 2020

Page updated on: 19/06/2020
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