Some professional courses, such as Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, Social Work and Teaching carry with them additional expectations about professional behaviour on top of your academic work. This is known as Fitness to Practise, Suitability for Social Work, or Fitness to Teach, and is defined by the regulatory body for your profession. The University has to investigate concerns that are raised about students under these policies, to make sure that no-one is put at risk, and that students are properly supported.
If you have been told that a Student Referral form or Fitness to Practise concern has been raised about you, Just Ask can provide independent advice and support you throughout the process. We can explain University procedures, help you to prepare for meetings, attend meetings with you and advise you on your options at every step.
The Faculty of Health Sciences Fitness to Practise page explains the type of issues which might trigger a Fitness to Practise concern for Health Sciences students. Issues such as plagiarism, disciplinary matters or non-contact orders being dealt with through other University processes can also trigger Fitness to Practise investigations.
If you are not a Health Sciences student and you are facing these types of concerns, contact Just Ask for detailed advice on your situation, as policies and procedures vary between different faculties. The remainder of the advice on this page is specifically for Health Sciences students.
Contact Just Ask for further advice if you have any concerns about any aspect of Fitness to Practise.
What happens when a Student Referral Form is submitted?
Anyone can submit a referral about a student using the form on the Health Sciences Fitness to Practise page. All referrals are looked at and a decision is taken as to what, if anything, should happen next.
Many referrals simply result in a referral for support, to a member of the programme team, to the Disability and Health Panel or to Wellbeing services. However, if the Case Investigators feel that the referral is suitably complex or serious and that there may be Fitness to Practise implications, a meeting will be arranged with the student to talk about the referral and decide what should happen next.
The Case Investigation meeting
At this meeting, the Case Investigator will discuss the referral with you and hear your side of the situation. You can take a friend or a Just Ask adviser along with you. There may be another person in the meeting as well taking notes.
At this point the focus is very much on information gathering and ensuring that you have any support in place that you may need. The Case Investigator will want to hear your side of the story. It will help if you can reflect on your professional behaviour and show that you understand why this issue might be considered to be a problem. The Case Investigator will be looking for signs of insight and reflection about your practise.
Just Ask can help you prepare for the meeting and help ensure that you mention everything that is important.
What can the Case Investigator decide?
There are four possible outcomes of the initial Case Investigation meeting. The Case Investigator may decide that no Fitness to Practise issue has been raised, in which case no further action is required. If minor Fitness to Practise issues are identified, some kind of penalty such as a warning, undertaking or condition may be imposed by the Case Investigator. Alternatively, the Case Investigator may refer you for further support. The power of the Case Investigator is limited, so if serious Fitness to Practise issues have been identified you will be referred to a full Fitness to Practise panel hearing.
In our experience, very few, if any, cases get to a full Fitness to Practise panel hearing each year. Recent statistics are available to view on the Faculty of Health Sciences Fitness to Practise page. Only one person within the last 4 years has been required to leave the University due to Fitness to Practise concerns and the majority of referrals lead to students receiving support.
What if I disagree with the concerns raised?
You will be sent a copy of the referral form along with your invitation to the meeting so you will know what the concerns are. The initial meeting is the place where you can raise any issues you have about the concerns, and provide evidence to disprove them. Any minor issues identified by University staff should be addressed informally there and then, so fitness to practise concerns would only be raised if the issues are serious or persistent.
I’ve been accused of plagiarism/exam cheating – is this a Fitness to Practise issue?
Any plagiarism or cheating concerns will be dealt with under academic processes first. The chairs of faculty plagiarism panels are also Case Investigators so they will judge whether the matter comes under fitness to practise and refer the case for further action if necessary. If the Chair of the plagiarism panel is not a Case Investigator, then a referral form can be submitted for consideration.
What if I disagree with the penalty imposed?
After the meeting, you will be sent a copy of the notes to check that they are accurate. You have the chance to request amendments if you think that anything in them is inaccurate. It’s also possible to ask to add things that you may have forgotten to say.
If the Case Investigator decides that a formal warning is appropriate, you will be asked if you consent to this or not. If you don’t, the matter will automatically be referred to a full Fitness to Practise panel meeting.
What is kept on file and how long for? Would FtP concerns remain on my file after I finish my course?
Referrals or cases investigated and referred for supportive measures or resulting in no further action will be held on file until your graduation or departure. Cases investigated, where a student accepts a warning will be held on file until 6 years after your graduation or departure. Cases referred to an FTP Panel which have resulted in a formal written warning, with or without conditions will be held on file until 12 years after your graduation or departure. Cases referred to an FTP Panel where FTP issues are proven, resulting in sanctions (undertakings, suspension, expulsion) will be held on file until 40 years after student graduation or departure.
Students on professional programmes go through the process of registering with their professional body around the time of graduation. For further details of this process, you should contact your School. This process includes declaring any disciplinary or Fitness to Practise outcomes. The University is also required to report information about Fitness to Practise concerns to the relevant regulatory body. The regulatory body may request further details from the University, or may contact you for more information. It is very unlikely for any concerns to result in a student not being able to register with their professional body.
What if I’ve already qualified?
If you are already registered with a professional body and you are studying at postgraduate level, the University is obliged to report any fitness to practise concerns that may arise to the professional body directly. The professional body will then decide whether any further investigation is necessary.
What if the concern raised is a criminal matter?
The University cannot investigate criminal matters and therefore they will not take action until any police investigation has taken place.
You must declare any cautions or convictions to the University, and failure to do so would be considered a disciplinary matter. If a potential criminal matter has been raised, it’s likely that a case investigation meeting will take place, but until any criminal investigation is completed, the University will not take any further action under Fitness to Practise.
What is the role of the Disability and Health Panel?
The Disability and Health Panel can help students to get support in place, either via Disability Services or Occupational Health. The Disability & Health Panel will also refer students to Fitness to Practise if they are not engaging with support. The panel also makes decisions about students who are too unwell to engage with their course, and works alongside Wellbeing Services and the Fitness to Study processes.
What is the difference between disciplinary and Fitness to Practise?
Student Disciplinary procedures and Fitness to Practise procedures can refer to each other. If a Disciplinary matter has been raised, it’s likely to be referred to Fitness to Practise processes too so that the University can report on this to the professional bodies.
If a Fitness to Practise concern has been raised does it mean that I can no longer qualify, or practise once I am qualified?
This is possible, but incredibly rare. It is very unlikely for any referral to result in a student not being able to register with their professional body. Even if Fitness to Practise concerns have arisen, the regulatory body has options such as requiring additional action to be taken before registration, or imposing restrictions on your practise.
Do I need legal representation?
It’s not necessary to get legal representation, and in fact this can be a barrier to getting Fitness to Practise issues resolved. The University wants to see that you have some insight into potential problems rather than an adversarial approach. Support is available from Just Ask. The Medical Defence Union, Dental Defence Union or Veterinary Defence Society can also support students in this situation, particularly if you are required to attend a full panel hearing.
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