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Toolbox or tickbox: how should you use our standards?

19 Nov 2019
  • Our standards

What’s the best way to use our standards of conduct, performance and ethics in practice?

Professional standards exist to make sure service users are safe, respected and listened to.

Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics (SCPEs) set out our expectations of your behaviour. They’re a common set of values that form the bedrock of all professional practice.

The SCPEs are complemented by our standards of proficiency, which set out our expectations of your knowledge and skills. You need to meet them to be accepted onto our Register, and you make a declaration that you still meet the standards that apply to your scope of practice whenever you renew your registration.

Together with the standards of proficiency, the SCPEs should support you to give service users safe and effective care, of the highest standard possible.


Using the standards to support your practice

You will rarely see negative statements such as do not, you should not or you must not in our SCPEs. This is because the SCPEs are not restrictions on your practice and shouldn’t limit the care you can give.

You can think of our SCPEs as a toolbox to help you make practical, ethical decisions about the care you provide.

Professional practice is broad and unpredictable, so we can’t tell you what to do in every different scenario. There will usually be more than one way for you to meet our standards.

The important thing is that you are giving service users a high standard of safe and effective care.



Finding the message behind the standard

Let’s look at standard 1.1 as an example. The standard says:

You must treat service users and carers as individuals, respecting their privacy and dignity.

Some registrants worry about what ‘treating service users and carers as individuals’ means, especially when they are under time pressures.

The most important thing is to understand the message behind the standard. Ultimately, this standard is about providing person-centred care – recognising that every person has a different set of values and preferences, and tailoring your care appropriately.

There are many different practical ways to respect a service user’s individuality, privacy and dignity. It might be as simple as making sure there is somewhere quiet and private to talk to service users about confidential issues.

Like all the SCPEs, this standard should enable you to do your job well and professionally. It’s about asking yourself if you’re doing the best you can for your service users.


When to apply the standards

It might be tempting to think of the standards as a set of tick boxes you have to achieve one by one. In reality, applying the standards is about understanding the principles behind them and coming back to them in all your decision-making, all the time.

Take standard 6.2:

You must not do anything, or allow someone else to do anything, which could put the health or safety of a service user, carer or colleague at unacceptable risk.

The principle of this standard should underpin every decision you make. Whether you’re delegating some of your work to another practitioner, or your employer has asked you to do something potentially dangerous, you will always need to identify or minimise risk.


As with the principles of the standards, the language we use is fairly broad. This is because the language you use in your work might vary from the language used by other professions.

For example, the standards often refer to ‘service users, carers or colleagues’, but we don’t use these terms rigidly. Some registrants work with professionals outside of their usual team, such as foster carers or advocates. Others rarely see ‘patients’, but do work with GPs to deliver test results. The important thing is to apply the language to your practice, and use our standards no matter who you’re working with.

This is representative of the spirit of the standards overall. Instead of focusing too much on the wording, think about the language broadly and find the meaning behind the standard.


Further support

We develop our standards with employers and professional bodies, to sit alongside other guidance and support you have access to. So your employer and professional body are great sources of additional support and advice specific to your profession.

If you have further questions for the HCPC, get in touch with our Policy team.

We’re also publishing blog posts, exploring each of our SCPEs in practice. So far, we’ve covered the following topics.

Deciding what's within your scope of practice

The questions we're asked most about record keeping

Candour and what to do when something goes wrong

Reporting concerns about safety

Page updated on: 31/10/2019