Fitness to Practise: A Year in Review

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29
Dec

Fitness to Practise: A Year in Review
By: Anonymous | Published On: 29/12/20 2:45 pm

2020 has been a significant year for fitness to practise.  From the impact of Covid19 to the realities for BAME healthcare professionals, this is an overview of fitness to practise in 2020 and a look at fitness to practise in 2021.

Covid-19

Covd19 has had an impact on fitness to practise unlike anything else.  The long standing and traditional ways of fitness to practise processes were, by and large, set aside in response to the pandemic.  Registration processes were significantly simplified, in some cases, suspension and interim orders reviews were brought forward and fitness to practise processes transformed to focus attention on the most serious of cases.

What healthcare regulator’s response proved was that wholesale reform of fitness to practise process is possible.  The Professional Standards Authority (PSA), responsible for oversight of the UK’s healthcare regulators, was “impressed with the “genuinely agile and inclusive policy-making” that the pandemic forced on fitness to practise procedures” which was  stark contrast to the “inexcusable delay in tackling the many agreed flaws in statutory professional regulation that have been well documented for the best part of a decade.”

The PSA is convinced that the evidence speaks for itself and that this “genuine appreciation and understanding must not stop when the pandemic is over.”  More on this when I look at what 2021 holds for fitness to practise.

BAME

This year (2020) has also laid bare the experiences and reality of fitness to practise for healthcare professionals from a BAME backgrounds.  Almost without exception, healthcare regulators from across the spectrum have published data confirming BAME healthcare professionals are disproportionally affected or represented in fitness to practise proceedings.

The evidence supporting this is mixed though.  Regulators such as the General Medical Council (GMC) and Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) appear to have a good evidence base where as the General Dental Council (GDC) knows it is a problem but admitted it lacks evidence and will require dentists and other dental professionals to submit certain information in the future to gather this information.

An example demonstrating the unfair and disproportionate experiences of BAME healthcare professionals was the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) decision to redact “fitness to practise reports to guard against racial bias.

Failing to meet fitness to practise standards

Many of the UK’s healthcare regulators have not met the Professional Standards Authority’s standards of good practise.  Of note in 2020 was the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) only meeting one of the five standards for fitness to practise and a finding by the PSA that the NMC’s fitness to practise standards not being ‘fair and transparent’.

Decision of the courts

2020 has also seen a number of important rulings come out of the higher courts.  A brief summary of these are:

  1. The case of an Optometrist illustrating the significance of upholding public trust and confidence in the healthcare profession.  In this case, an optometrist had done all that could reasonably be asked of her to remediate the specific clinical failings but her behaviour brought the profession into disrepute and breached the fundamental tenet that the care of patients should be a registered practitioners first concern.
  2. In the case of PSA v GMC, the High Court, in allowing the appeal, commented, among other things, voluntary erasure not enough to protect the public.
  3. In GMC v Dr Raied Haris, the High Court said that tribunals should not overcomplicate matters by getting tied up whether the issue is “sexually motivated”. Instead the correct approach is to consider, based on the evidence, whether the touching was “sexual”.

Fitness to practise in 2021

Next year will be another significant year for fitness to practise.

The more immediate consideration for healthcare professionals will be Brexit and its implications for healthcare professionals from the EU and EEA wishing to practice in the UK.  You can refer to my article “Brexit implications for fitness to practise” for access to the latest advice.

Perhaps of more significance is the Government’s plans for reforming professional regulation of healthcare workers expected in 2021.  According to the recent blog by the PSA, the draft legislation is starting to take shape, and there are plans to consult in the new year (2021) on the policy proposals.

It is clear that the learnings and experiences from dealing with the Covid pandemic will play an important role in the future landscape of fitness to practise and professional regulation of healthcare workers in the UK.  We are yet to see the Government proposals but there has been some insight given with regards to “The Future of Healthcare Regulation according to Matt Hancock.

As always, you can stay up to date with the latest news and developments with regards to fitness to practise on my website or by following me on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Fitness to Practise Defence Barrister

I am a leading Fitness to Practise Defence Barrister vast experience defending healthcare professionals facing fitness to practise proceedings before all of the UK’s healthcare regulators:

If you have been notified by your regulatory body that you’re under investigation or are facing difficulties with your registration, contact me today for an initial free and no obligation consultation on 0207 060 1983 or Stephen.McCaffrey@kingsviewchambers.com.

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