Part D: Procedure for dealing with professional conduct or suitability concerns (Fitness to Practise)
1. When this procedure applies
1.1. This procedure may be used if you:
1.1.1. are registered on a programme leading to professional registration/accreditation (for example, in the Schools of Education and Lifelong Learning, Health Sciences, Norwich Medical School, Pharmacy, and Social Work); or
1.1.2. maintain accreditation by a professional, statutory and regulatory body (PSRB) while registered on any professional programme (including taught doctorates at the Norwich Medical School, School of Health Sciences, or the School of Education and Lifelong Learning)
1.2. In any case where there is a conflict between this Procedure under Part D and the requirements of a professional, statutory and regulatory body, the latter shall take precedence.
2. Raising a concern about fitness to practise
2.1 Concerns about your conduct and/or suitability must be made in writing, whether through a Cause for Concern Form or otherwise, and sent to the Fitness to Practise Lead in your school. Where the Fitness to Practise Lead is notified of a concern but has not yet received a copy in writing, he or she may nevertheless take the preliminary steps set out in 14.3 (General Regulations for Students).
2.2. Any allegation of professional misconduct and/or professional unsuitability is a serious one. It is essential that the proceedings should be conducted on a basis of strict confidentiality, although it may be appropriate for the University to share information with relevant third parties in the interests of safeguarding.
Guidance: While a concern may give rise to disciplinary proceedings, or disciplinary proceedings may lead to fitness to practise concerns, fitness to practise proceedings are not disciplinary in nature. The Office for Students Good Practice Framework on Fitness to Practise states that ‘The purpose of a fitness to practise process is not to punish the student for wrongdoing. It is to ensure the safety of the student and those around them, including members of the public, and to safeguard public confidence in the profession.
3. Preliminary steps in addressing a concern
The Fitness to Practise Lead shall take the following initial steps on receipt of a concern:
3.1 consider any potential risks to the public and/or a member of your family if the concerns are found to be true, and any risk to your wellbeing arising from the concern itself or the investigation thereof
3.2 where there are safeguarding concerns, inform the Head of School without delay, so that the Head of School can consider the safeguarding implications and in particular whether it is necessary for there to be an immediate suspension from studies/placement in accordance with the procedure set out in Part E of these University Disciplinary and Investigative Procedures and Powers.
3.3 give you details of the concerns that he or she has received as soon as reasonably practicable. You must be provided with information that is sufficient for you to understand the nature of the concerns and the context in which they have arisen
4. Initial meeting with the student
4.1. You will be invited to a meeting with the Fitness to Practise Lead or someone acting on their behalf, to discuss the concerns that have been raised. You must attend any meeting that has been scheduled. The purpose of the meeting is:
4.1.1. to discuss the concerns that have been raised and what you say about them; and
4.1.2. to consider with you whether there are any issues relating to your health or wellbeing that may affect the substantive concern raised or the way in which the university operates this procedure; and
4.1.3. to ascertain whether your employer is aware of concerns, if they have arisen in a setting in which you are also employed as a practitioner or member of staff.
4.2. No fewer than 5 working days before the meeting, you must be informed in writing:
4.2.1. of the concerns raised
4.2.2. that you can seek the independent support of the Student Union Advice Centre; and
4.2.3. that you can be accompanied to the meeting by a Companion who shall not be a legal representative and must have no connection with the allegations and therefore no material interest in the matter.
4.2.4. the decisions that are open to the Fitness to Practise Lead following the meeting.
Guidance: In complex cases, the Fitness to Practice Lead is advised to contact the Chair of the University's Senate Student Discipline Committee for advice and guidance.
5. Decision by the Fitness to Practise Lead
5.1 The Fitness to Practise Lead shall then:
5.1.1. determine that there are no Fitness to Practise concerns, in which case no records shall be retained unless the School is required to do so by Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body requirements; or
5.1.2. where there are concerns but they are considered to be low level, give advice as to the expectations of the profession and warn of the consequences should you be found in the future to have committed any breach and/or make a recommendation to the Head of the School that a formal warning be recorded on your file; and/ or
5.1.3. ask your adviser or supervisor to trigger the Student Engagement Procedure or, in the case of postgraduate research students, the PGR Procedures on Attendance, Engagement, and Process and identify a plan of action and outcomes which you must meet; or
5.1.4. recommend to the Head of the School that a referral should be made to Senate Student Discipline Committee under Regulation 14. Prior to such a referral being made, the Fitness to Practise Lead should check with the Secretary to the Disciplinary Triage Group whether any other General Regulations may potentially have been breached, so that if appropriate an investigation of those can take place and a combined referral be made.
5.2 If you deny the factual basis giving rise to the professionalism concerns, and/or where the Fitness to Practise Lead considers the case to be complex, the Fitness to Practise Lead may follow the procedure set out in D6 (complex cases).
Guidance: Unless a concern relates wholly to a professional context, the referral should be for Regulation 14 and another regulation. For example, where the student is alleged to have harassed another student, the referral would be Regulation 10 and Regulation 14. Note that in some cases there are no breaches of another regulation. An example might be where a student was unfit for reasons outside their control.
6. Complex cases
6.1. In complex cases, or those in which you deny the factual basis giving rise to the professionalism concerns (or do not attend an initial meeting), the Fitness to Practise Lead may recommend to the Head of School that an Investigating Officer be appointed to investigate the concern.
6.2 The Investigating Officer shall assemble all the information relevant to the case.
6.3 The Fitness to Practise Lead shall, in consultation with the Head of School and Investigating Officer, determine:
6.3.1 a realistic timescale for the relevant information to be collected and for the Investigating Officer to complete his/her report. The Lead must inform you of the agreed timescale in writing, and provide updates as to any progress/delays thereafter.
6.3.2 whether the views of external consultants/practitioners from the relevant professional body should be sought, and if so to contact the relevant external bodies if required.
6.4. Within 10 working days of receipt of the Investigating Officer’s report, the Fitness to Practise Lead should meet with the Head of School (or a school professionalism panel acting on behalf of the Head of School) so that the Head of School (or school professionalism panel) can determine
6.4.1. that there are no Fitness to Practise concerns, in which case no records shall be retained unless the School is required to do so by Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body requirements; or
6.4.2. where there are concerns but they are considered to be low level, give advice as to the expectations of the profession and warn of the consequences should you be found in the future to have committed any breach and/or issue a formal warning be recorded on your file; and/ or
6.4.3. ask your adviser or supervisor to trigger the Student Engagement Procedure, or in the case of postgraduate research students, the PGR Procedures on Attendance, Engagement, and Progress and identify a plan of action and outcomes which you must meet; or
6.4.4. refer the matter to the Senate Student Discipline Committee for determination.
Guidance: The investigation and write-up of the Investigating Officer's report will normally take up to 30 working days.
7. Medical evidence
The Fitness to Practise Lead may request that you consent to an occupational health assessment or specialised medical assessment for the purposes of informing the investigation and deciding on an appropriate outcome.
Guidance: Referrals to Senate Student Discipline Committee
Your attention is drawn to Part F: Senate Student Discipline Committee for information about the process that should be followed. The Head of School must submit to the Secretary of the Senate Student Discipline Committee the evidence, including the report of any Investigating Officer and the evidence on which the School wishes to rely.
The Head of School may also nominate staff/external contacts to be witnesses, to provide further information at the meeting. All witnesses must have some relevance to the case and for each witness proposed, a brief statement as to their relevance and knowledge must be provided by the Head.
In view of the seriousness and complexity of Regulation 14 cases, it is expected the presenter of the School’s case shall be either the Head of School or Fitness to Practise Lead.
At the SSDC hearing, the school will be asked for its views on the appropriate outcome of the case in the event that the student is found to be in breach of Regulation 14 on the facts found by SSDC. The school’s views should be informed by the requirements and expectations of the relevant profession and the environment in which the student would be entitled to practise.