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Statement on Fitness to Practise hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which oversees the statutory regulators and organisations with non-statutory Accredited Registers, has issued guidance on virtual hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic, whether for Fitness to Practise or other matters, where there is an urgent public interest in their taking place.

The full text of the guidance can be found here.

The pandemic is not over, and social distancing and other restrictions are likely to continue for some time.  Should there be a need, it will be difficult to hold physical hearings (with all parties attending in the same place), which means that the Academy will need to look at other options, such as greater use of wholly online hearings and ‘hybrid’ hearings where part of the hearing takes place in one location and the remainder virtually.

If a hearing needs to take place, the Academy for Healthcare Science will follow the guidance set out by the PSA in relation to virtual hearings.  This will not override the legal rights of registrants or the rules governing the conduct of fitness to practise hearings.

The Academy will provide good practice guidance for the conduct of such hearings and make this available to all parties, particularly to registrants and witnesses, so they are clear about the process and options.  This will cover:

  • arrangements for ensuring that the factors which led to the decision to hold the hearing in a particular format are kept under review throughout the process and the arrangements changed or modified if necessary
  • a process for testing connectivity etc prior to the hearing to ensure that all parties can engage effectively
  • encouragement for parties to engage prior to the hearing to ensure that an agreed bundle is available to the panel
  • public access to the hearing
  • arrangements for private discussions between registrants and their representatives and for the panel to proceed and deliberate in private
  • arrangements for providing advice and support to registrants and witnesses about the process, particularly if they are unrepresented
  • the efficient conduct of the hearing, including secure and ready access to documents and unused material, who will be visible on screen during the hearing, raising interjections or concerns (for example about the visual or sound quality) when another party is speaking
  • practical issues including how the oath or affirmation is to be taken by witnesses and expectations relating to dress, behaviour and surroundings during the process
  • a recognition that technological difficulties may slow proceedings or cause interruptions with a reminder that patience may on occasion be necessary
  • guidance on the need for regular breaks during the hearing and on how often those might be
  • any arrangements for recording the hearings and for ownership, retention and storage of the recording and, particularly, ensuring that full consideration has been given to the GDPR implications.

The PSA intend to keep their guidance under review and seek views on how it continues to be appropriate in March 2021, unless there is evidence, for example of new developments or unforeseen problems, to suggest it needs to be done more urgently. The Academy for Healthcare Science will implement any changes to the guidance as is necessary.

29 October 2020

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