The murder charge of nurse Lucy Letby, charged with the murder and attempted murder of babies at the Countess of Chester Hospital, has received significant interest in the sphere of fitness to practise and healthcare regulation.
A NMC statement on the issue confirmed that the issue will be given consideration by a virtual interim order hearing later this month.
In short, healthcare regulators have powers to impose practice restrictions at any stage of a fitness to practise process if the allegation is deemed sufficiently serious. Interim Orders, as the name suggests, is an interim step (before a final decision is taken) to safeguard patients in serious allegations or complaints.
Interim Orders are generally reserved for the most serious of cases where the regulator in questions considered there to be a public protection risk but also where it is deemed necessary to protect the registrant.
Clearly any decision to impose an interim order must be evidence based and proportionate. As such, no such decision is made until sufficient information about the allegation has been gathered and evidence meets the threshold of for such a decision to be taken.
Each of the UK’s healthcare regulators have their own guidance on the matter.
Generally speaking, Interim Orders cam impose:
Interim Order decisions are made by a panel, normally an Investigating Committee but also a Fitness to Practise Committee. It is important to note that panels meeting to consider an interim order does not (at this stage) consider whether the concerns have been proven. The purpose of an interim order hearing is to consider the concern raised and to undertake a risk assessment to establish if there is any interim public safety risk present that needs addressing whilst the fitness to practise investigation is ongoing.
It is of course open to panels to also take no action at this stage.
Interim Orders can be significant in its effect because it at the very least restricts practice. Since Interim Order decisions are made by panels, healthcare professionals are entitled to a fair and open hearing including the right to be represented. Research and evidence have shown that legal representation at hearings leads to better outcomes for registrants. If you have been notified or are due to appear before a healthcare regulatory panel, contact me today for an initial free and no obligation consultation on 0207 060 1983 or Stephen.McCaffrey@kingsviewchambers.com.
Interim Orders must be reviewed at regular intervals either by the Investigating Committee but also a Fitness to Practise Committee (if they took the decision to impose the interim order).