What is “fitness to practise”?
Before briefly looking at the process, it is important to understand that Social Work England (SWE) means by ‘fit to practise’.
SWE defines ‘fitness to practise’ as a social worker having the skills, knowledge, character and health to practise their profession safely and effectively without restriction. SWE goes on to say:
“Fitness to practise is not just about professional performance. It also includes acts by a social worker which may damage public confidence in the profession. This may include conduct that takes place outside of the workplace, such as acts resulting in criminal investigations.”
If SWE decides that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, it means that SWE has identified serious concerns about the suitability of their character or their ability to practise safely and effectively. A finding of impaired fitness to practise might lead SWE to restrict a social worker’s right to practice or, in particularly serious cases, issue an order which removes a social worker’s right to practise immediately.
What might lead to a fitness to practise investigation?
The next question therefore is what SWE considers to be “serious” and therefore warrants an investigation.
SWE’s guidance states that it considers “…concerns that are serious enough to raise doubts about whether a social worker should be allowed to continue to practise as a registered professional, either with some form of restriction on their practice or at all.” Examples of allegations that we can investigate include:
It gives examples of “serious shortcomings in professional competence” that could put people at unnecessary risk:
- serious and/or repeated mistakes or omissions in care
- failure to conduct appropriate and/or sufficient safeguarding assessments
- failure to respond effectively to a person’s needs
- health conditions that have not been managed effectively and may put people at risk
- concerns about a social worker’s knowledge of the English language
Serious shortcomings in conduct that could put people at risk or undermine public confidence in social work services, for example:
- criminal offences
- fraud or dishonesty
- abuse of professional position, for example an improper sexual relationship with a service user
- serious breaches of service user confidentiality
What are the different stages involved in an investigation?
What to do if your fitness to practise is investigated
If you are subject to a Social Work England fitness to practise investigation, there are a number of things you need to know:
- Social Work England will inform you if they decide to open an investigation. They will tell you what information they have received, why it is appropriate to conduct further enquiries and seek information about your employer within 7 days.
- Through out the process, you will have an opportunity to engage in the process and respond to the complaint/allegations made against you. Initially, SWE will allow you 14 days to provide them with any information you think might be relevant for them to consider.
- You are entitled to legal representation from the outset of the investigation and throughout the fitness to practise process.
- No information at this stage will be published unless the matter is referred to Social Work England’s Interim Order Committee.
Why it is important to seek legal advice and representation
We understand the stress and anxiety caused by fitness to practise investigations and hearings. We also know from years of experience that legal representation is key to good outcomes.
It is important however to seek legal advice without delay. There is often a very narrow window of opportunity to present Social Work England with a response which could lead to an early resolution.
Early engagement with specialist lawyers can help set the right strategy, consider the need to remediation and assist you with engaging and responding to your regulator.
We have a proven track record of success, acting for a range of health and care professionals facing fitness to practise issues. You can read more about our case success, our excellent reviews and contact us for a free, no obligation case assessment.
Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.