|1. Introduction||2. Definition|
|3. Scope of the Fitness to Practise Procedure||4. General Principles|
|5. Initiation of the Fitness to Practise Procedure||6. Fitness to Practise Investigation|
|7. Students who decide to withdraw from their programme of study||8. Fitness to Practise Panel Procedure|
|9. Appeals||10. Monitoring and record keeping|
|11. Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman|
Download a printable version of the Fitness to Practice Procedure.
1.1 The University is committed to preparing students to enter their chosen profession as safe and effective practitioners. The University aims to help students from the start of their programme of study to understand the requirements for entry into their chosen profession and to help them to develop good practice and high standards of professional behaviour.
1.2 The fundamental principle in the Fitness to Practise procedures is the protection of the public and, in particular, the safeguarding of the interests of children, patients and clients. The University has a duty to ensure that students are fit to practise.
1.3 Students whose programme of study leads to a professional qualification (for example, medicine, dentistry, nursing and midwifery, psychology, teaching, social work, pharmacy, professional legal training, health and leisure) will be required to meet the standards relating to both academic achievement and conduct, as set out by the University and in the appropriate guidance of the relevant regulatory body.
1.4 Any condition or conduct with which a student may present and which it is considered may affect their ability to practise safely or effectively or which may pose a risk to the safety or interests of children, patients or clients will be deemed to be a fitness to practise issue and will normally be dealt with by the University under its Fitness to Practise procedure.
1.5 Students may be considered unfit to practise on the grounds of, for example:
This list is not exhaustive.
1.6 Some problems may arise from a pattern of behaviour over a period of time, rather than one single incident.
1.7 The Fitness to Practise procedure applies to programmes which lead directly into professions (for example, medicine, dentistry, nursing and midwifery, psychology, teaching, social work, pharmacy, professional legal training, health and leisure) for which there are academic, behavioural and health requirements which must be met to ensure suitability to practise.
1.8 Applicants and students should be aware that conduct before admission to the University may be considered by the University and/or the regulatory body to be relevant to fitness to practise.
1.9 Conduct may include academic offences (eg plagiarism or cheating in an examination), particularly where concerns are raised about a student’s probity.
1.10 In cases where either the disciplinary or Fitness to Practise regulations may be invoked, the University Officer with whom a complaint has been lodged shall liaise with the appropriate subject area and any other Officer, including the Director of Academic and Student Affairs (or nominees) as required in deciding which set of regulations should apply. The decision to invoke one set of regulations does not preclude a later decision to transfer a case to another set of regulations if the circumstances or details of the case, after further investigation, deem it to be more appropriate.
Requirements of regulatory body
1.11 The University has an obligation to applicants and students to ensure that they do not commence or continue on a programme of study or embark on a career for which they may not be suited, particularly given the considerable time, commitment and expense involved in the process of qualification.
1.12 The University would wish to make available at all times informed guidance to applicants and students regarding the entry requirements to their chosen profession. However, applicants and students should consult the relevant regulatory body for details of the particular requirements relating to their chosen profession and should familiarise themselves with such requirements.
1.13 The relevant regulatory body is responsible for decisions about registration. The test for fitness to practise and/or the threshold for fitness to practise used by the regulatory body may be different to that used by the University or by a particular School within the University. Students should be aware that acceptance on to or completion of a programme of study does not necessarily mean that the relevant regulatory body will agree to register them.
Students who require reasonable adjustments
1.14 In rare cases it may not be possible for students to continue on their programme of study because, after all options for support and/or reasonable adjustment have been explored, they are unfit to study or their fitness to practise is impaired.
1.15 Students should be aware that in some circumstances it may not be possible for equivalent reasonable adjustments to be made in the workplace. Such requirements are regulated by The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). It is incumbent on students to make enquiries with potential future employers regarding the level of assistance or reasonable adjustments that are likely to be available to them in order to make an informed decision about continuing on their programme of study.
Mental and/or physical health problems
1.16 Students experiencing mental health difficulties may come to the University’s attention by way of a complaint about unprofessional or inappropriate behaviour or failure to engage properly with their programme of study. Health conditions and disabilities should not affect a student’s fitness to practise as long as the student
1.17 Where a student presents with a mental or physical health issue, fitness to study must also be considered (see the Guidelines on Fitness to Continue in Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety).
1.18 In circumstances where behaviour arising from a diagnosed or suspected mental illness or addictive problem raises issues relating to professional practice, the Fitness to Practise Procedures will normally be applied as a last resort if reasonable adjustments, medical and counselling interventions have failed to address satisfactorily the problem behaviour or have been refused by the student.
Duty of candour
1.19 It is expected that any person involved in any University process will treat all others involved with respect and courtesy and will behave honestly and with integrity throughout the process. It is also expected that evidence (written or oral) provided to the University by any person will be true to the best of that person’s knowledge.
1.20 Any registered student or member of University staff considered to have acted dishonestly or to have provided false evidence may be referred for investigation under the Conduct Regulations, the Fitness to Practise Procedure or the Staff Disciplinary Procedure.
1.21 Where, as a result of a complaint being made to the University, it is considered that the behaviour of any person may also amount to criminal activity, the University may take steps to inform the police, if deemed appropriate.
1.22 Students should also be aware that truthfulness and probity are, in themselves, issues which will be taken into account in any decision regarding their fitness to practise.
1.23 The University reserves the right to request and consider further evidence, including medical evidence, as it deems appropriate. Where considered necessary, a panel or a committee may adjourn a meeting in order to allow time for such further evidence to be obtained.
Disclosure to the University of investigations into criminal activity or convictions
1.24 Students whose programmes are covered by the Fitness to Practise Procedure must disclose to the University if they become subject to a police investigation and/or pre-charge or court bail conditions or acquire a criminal record, after admission and before graduation, relating to any criminal offence; this includes discretionary disposals (eg informed warnings, cautions and youth conferences) or other significant information.
1.25 The Director of Academic and Student Affairs may consult with senior colleagues and/or other appropriate persons and will, where appropriate, invoke the University’s Conduct Regulations and/or the Fitness to Practise Procedure.
1.26 Students on certain programmes are required to complete an annual self-declaration form disclosing any undeclared additions to their criminal history since application for registration.
Disclosure to regulatory body
1.27 It is incumbent on applicants and students to ensure that they are aware of the duty of disclosure relating to the regulatory body for their chosen profession.
1.28 Students must normally disclose any penalty or sanction imposed (as set out in regulations 1.60 and 1.84 below) to their regulatory body when applying for registration or provisional registration. Where a student must register with a regulatory body prior to the commencement of their studies, the student must normally disclose the outcome of the Fitness to Practise proceedings to the relevant regulatory body upon notification of the outcome.
1.29 Some regulatory bodies require students to disclose any involvement in any Fitness to Practise proceedings, even where the case against them was dismissed following an investigation (see regulation 1.60 i below). Normally, any case referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel must be disclosed to the regulatory body, regardless of the outcome.
1.30 In addition to the requirement for a student to declare the outcome of a Fitness to Practise procedure to the relevant regulatory body, the outcome will, as appropriate, be reported to the relevant regulatory body by the University.
1.31 If required to do so by the regulatory body, the University will inform any other appropriate authority about any misconduct or condition presented by a student that might call into question the student’s fitness to practise.
Excluded Student Database
1.32 For certain programmes of study (currently medicine, dentistry and pharmacy), the decision of a Fitness to Practise Panel to expel a student will be registered by the University on the Excluded Student Database.
1.33 The Excluded Student Database is a protocol used by the Medical Schools Council, the Dental Schools Council, the Pharmacy Schools Council and participating Schools for sharing information on students found unfit to practise on courses leading to entry to a registered profession.
Suspension from placement
1.34 Any student under investigation for fitness to practise will normally be subject to an immediate precautionary suspension if they are on any form of placement or clinical practice, until the conclusion of the Fitness to Practise proceedings. Similarly, any student under investigation for fitness to practise, who is due to go on any form of placement or clinical practice will normally have that placement or supervised practice deferred (if applicable) until after the conclusion of the fitness to practise proceedings.
1.35 The decision to suspend will be taken by the Head of School (or nominee), in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs (or nominee). Any decision to suspend must be made to protect children, patients, clients, colleagues, the student in question and/or other students. The decision to suspend must be proportionate, fair, documented and must be reviewed on a regular basis.
Suspension/exclusion from the University*
1.36 Where considered necessary, a student may be suspended or excluded from the University under the Conduct Regulations.
* see Section 5 of the Conduct Regulations
Concerns raised close to graduation
1.37 Where a concern about a student’s condition or conduct is raised immediately prior to graduation, the University may consult with the relevant regulatory body and may not permit the student to graduate, even if the student is in good academic standing. In such circumstances, graduation will be deferred pending the outcome of any Fitness to Practise or other University procedure or any criminal proceedings.
1.38 The University will take all reasonable steps to limit the disclosure of information as is consistent with conducting an investigation and the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and any other relevant legislation. All staff and students who become involved in the Fitness to Practise or disciplinary procedures are required to respect the integrity of the process and the confidentiality of information arising from it.
1.39 However, the University will disclose details of fitness to practise proceedings as required by law or a regulatory body (see regulations 1.30-1.33 above).
1.40 In addition to the requirements set out at regulation 1.30 above and the provisions of regulation 1.88 below, there may be circumstances where information will need to be shared with other staff or persons external to the University. Where possible, this will be done with the student’s consent but if it is considered that there could be a risk to children/patients/clients, the wider public, the student, fellow students, staff, visitors to the University, or a risk of damage to the reputation of the University or the relevant profession, information may be shared without the student’s consent.
Support and representation
1.41 Any student in respect of whom a fitness to practise concern has been raised, including any student suspended from placement or clinical practice, may access support from the University’s Student Resilience and Wellbeing Team. Advice and support is also available from the Students’ Union.
At any interview and/or meeting the student is permitted to be accompanied by a registered student of the University (which shall include a Students’ Union Sabbatical Officer), or a member of University staff or University Chaplaincy.
1.42 In addition, the student may be legally represented. Where the student opts to have legal representation, the University may also have legal advice and/or representation. At any interviews and/or meetings, the person legally representing the student shall be permitted to speak on their behalf but the student will be expected to answer any questions put to them during an investigation or at a Fitness to Practise Panel meeting or Appeal Panel meeting.
1.43 The University will normally communicate by email with anyone involved in the University process. In the case of registered students or University staff, this will normally be to their University email address. Where correspondence is sent to a registered student by post it will be sent to the term-time address.
1.44 Where a fitness to practise issue is reported to the University by a member of University staff or a member of the public (including a placement provider), that person will normally be advised when the matter has been concluded and will be given as much information as is deemed appropriate about the outcome of any proceedings.
Notification of decisions
1.45 Unless otherwise stated, notification of a decision will be sent to the student and, subject to regulations 1.38-1.40 above, copied to relevant persons (as advised by the relevant Head of School, Chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel or Chair of the Appeal Panel), as appropriate, normally within five working days of the decision being taken. If there is a delay in the decision being made, the student will be advised.
Equality, diversity and fair treatment
1.46 The University has a legal, as well as a moral duty, to treat all students fairly. The University values and promotes equality and diversity and will seek to ensure that it treats all individuals fairly and with dignity and respect. The University seeks to provide equality to all, irrespective of: gender, including gender re-assignment; marital or civil partnership status; having or not having dependants; religious belief or political opinion; race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, including Irish Travellers); pregnancy, including maternity and paternity rights; disability; sexual orientation and age.
1.47 Within this procedure, where possible, there will be an equal gender balance on committees.
Less favourable treatment
1.48 Any student against whom a concern or complaint is raised under this procedure will not be treated any less favourably as a result, whether or not the concern or complaint is upheld or whether a sanction imposed. Victimisation shall be a ground for complaint.
1.49 Anonymous reports of concerns relating to the fitness to practise of a student will not normally be considered. However, where the report raises issues of serious concern, the University may take steps to investigate the matter.
1.50 Any person making a report must identify themselves. Only in exceptional circumstances will the Director of Education and/or the Director of Academic and Student Affairs permit the identity of the person reporting a concern to remain confidential, provided this is consistent with the rules of natural justice.
Standard of proof
1.51 At all times, the principles of natural justice shall be observed and the standard of proof shall be on the balance of probabilities.
1.52 Concerns regarding a student’s health or conduct should be reported, as soon as they become known, to the Director of Education (or equivalent) in the relevant School by any person, including a fellow student.
1.53 Anyone, including University staff and/or professional staff involved with student placements, who becomes aware of health or behavioural problems which may preclude a student from either completing part of a programme or undertaking professional practice, should at the earliest opportunity report the facts in writing to the Director of Education (or equivalent). The person making such a report must normally identify themselves to the Director of Education (or equivalent) in the School.
1.54 Students may also be referred to the Director of Education (or equivalent) by a Board of Examiners, or any University disciplinary body. The letter of referral should be copied to Academic Affairs.
1.55 On receipt of a written report, as set out above, the Director of Education (or equivalent) will, normally within five working days, refer the matter to the Head of School for a decision on whether to invoke the Fitness to Practise procedure.
1.56 If the procedure is invoked, the Head of School will nominate an Investigating Officer, who shall be a senior member of academic staff in the School or a senior member of staff who is registered with the regulatory body and (where appropriate) from the same disciplinary background as the student.
1.57 The Investigating Officer will notify the student in writing of:
1.58 The Investigating Officer will carry out an investigation and may:
1.59 Save in exceptional circumstances, the Investigating Officer will make a written report of the results of the investigation detailing all the evidence obtained, normally within fifteen working days from receipt of the referral by the Head of School. The Investigating Officer will forward the report to the Head of School and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs for consideration.
Outcome of investigation
1.60 The Head of School (or nominee), in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs (or nominee), will consider the report and decide:
1.61 The Head of School (or nominee), in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, should consider only whether the student’s behaviour is such as to call into question the student’s ability to continue on their programme of study or their fitness to practise in the profession after graduation.
1.62 In reaching a decision, the Head of School (or nominee) and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs must act in a proportionate way by weighing the interests of children, patients or clients and the public against those of the student and must consider whether the behaviour would be better dealt with through student support and remedial tuition, rather than through a formal Panel hearing.
1.63 The Head of School (or nominee) and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs may, if they consider the circumstances warrant it (eg if the facts of the case are not contested or if an investigation has already been carried out prior to being reported to the University) refer the case directly to a Fitness to Practise Panel without a formal investigation stage being initiated.
1.64 Where a student does not agree with the decision of the Head of School and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs to impose a warning (1.60 ii above), the student may request that the matter is referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel. The student must submit a request in writing to the School office within five working days of notification of the decision. If the student refuses to give the required undertaking (1.60 iii above), the matter will be referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel.
1.5 Students should be aware that by accepting a warning or giving an undertaking, they are accepting that there was a case to answer against them and that the facts as set out by Investigating Officer are correct and are admitted.
Notification of the outcome of the investigation
1.66 The Head of School (or nominee) shall notify the student of the outcome of the investigation. If the case is not dismissed, reasons shall be given for the decision.
1.67 If the outcome is to refer the case to a Fitness to Practise Panel (1.60 iv above), the letter from the Head of School (or nominee) shall advise the student that they are required to attend the Panel meeting and that, should they fail to attend without reasonable excuse, the Panel may consider the case against them in their absence.
1.68 The letter will also include the information and advice set out in regulation 1.69 below.
1.69 Any student who is referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel will be informed that they may permanently withdraw from their programme rather than go through the formal Fitness to Practise procedure. The student will also be advised:
1.70 If a student withdraws from the University prior to conclusion of the fitness to practise investigation, the University reserves the right to:
1.71 If the Head of School (or nominee), in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, decides that the case should be referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel, this referral should be made in spite of any mitigating factors such as health problems, where they exist. The student will be required to attend a meeting of the Panel.
1.72 If a student fails to attend the meeting without good cause, the Panel may consider their case and impose a penalty in their absence without further notice. The Chair shall have discretion on what constitutes good cause.
1.73 The meeting will be held in public if the student requests a public hearing. However, hearings involving student health issues will normally be held in private.
1.74 The role of the Fitness to Practise Panel is to deliberate formally and to decide whether the student is fit to practise and the sanctions, if any that should be imposed. The Panel should consider whether the student’s past behaviour which has led to the Fitness to Practise Procedure being invoked is likely to continue or whether the condition which has given rise to concern is likely to continue to impact on the student’s behaviour or ability to participate in their programme of study.
1.75 The student will be given a minimum of five working days’ written notice of
1.76 The student shall normally be allowed a minimum of five working days in which to prepare their case. All documentation on which the student intends to rely and the names of any witness they intend to call and the name of any person accompanying or representing them must be provided to the secretary of the Panel at least three working days before the date set for the meeting. If all parties involved in the case are in agreement, an accelerated timeframe may be applied.
Fitness to Practise Panel
1.77 When convened, a Fitness to Practise Panel will normally consist of:
1.78 At all meetings of the Panel three members (ie two members and the Chair) shall constitute a quorum. The quorum must include a member of the relevant profession (see ii above). The Panel’s decision will be a majority decision. Where a Panel’s decision is split, the Chair will have the casting vote.
1.79 No member of the Panel should have been involved in the case previously.
1.80 The Panel will be serviced by a Secretary who is not a member, but will be present throughout the proceedings. The Secretary will normally be a School Administrator.
1.81 If the student fails to attend without reasonable explanation, the Panel may consider the case and reach a decision in the student’s absence. The Chair shall have discretion as to what constitutes a reasonable explanation.
1.82 At the meeting the student and the Investigating Officer will enter and leave the room at the same time. Witnesses will be asked to join the meeting as required.
1.83 Minutes shall be taken as a formal record of the meeting and retained.
Powers of Fitness to Practise Panel
1.84 The Panel shall deal with the case by using one of the following outcomes or any combination of outcomes:
1.85 Where the Fitness to Practise Panel decides that a sanction is required, it will give consideration to each sanction in turn, starting with the least serious. The Panel will discuss and give reasons why each sanction is not considered sufficient before moving on to consider a more serious sanction.
1.86 Where the Fitness to Practise Panel imposes a warning (as set out at 1.84 ii. above) or a sanction (as set out at 1.84 iii. (a) (b) or (c) above), the Panel may, if it considers necessary, inform the Trust/placement provider of the nature of the allegation/s against the student and the outcome of the investigation, including any remedial action, monitoring or suspension considered appropriate (see regulations 1.29 and 1.40 above). Where a Panel recommends this, the student shall be informed.
1.87 Where it proves impossible to continue to offer the programme to a student because the student is deemed incapable on non-academic grounds (such as health) of completing it and will not therefore be fit to practise, the student will be required to withdraw from the programme and every effort will be made to offer an appropriate alternative programme of study.
1.88 Where the student was required to register with the regulatory body prior to commencing their studies, the University will inform the relevant regulatory body.
1.89 Where a student is allowed to continue on a programme but a warning, an undertaking or condition(s) have been set, or when their studies have been temporarily suspended, the student may be required to meet with the Chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel (or nominee) on further occasions in order that progress can be monitored.
1.90 Where a student breaches, or is alleged to have breached, the conditions set by a Fitness to Practise Panel, the matter will be referred back to the Fitness to Practise Panel for consideration. Insofar as possible, the Fitness to Practise Panel will be comprised of the same members as the original Panel.
1.91 Students who receive a warning or sanction, short of being expelled, will normally also receive supervision or monitoring, or both, to satisfy the School regarding their continued fitness to practise. They will also be provided with remedial or pastoral support, or both.
Notification of the decision of the Fitness to Practise Panel
1.92 The Chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel shall notify the student of the Panel’s decision. A copy of the decision shall also be sent to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, the Head of School and the Director of Education or equivalent.
1.93 The reasons for the decision, including any findings of fact, and details of any sanction imposed must be clearly set out in the letter. The student must be given sufficient information to understand the reasons for the decision and on which to make a decision about submitting an appeal.
1.94 Where the evidence of one person is preferred to the evidence of another person, the letter should state the Panel’s reasons.
1.95 The student may appeal on either or both of the following grounds, in writing, to the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor, copied to Academic Affairs. The written appeal must be submitted within ten working days of the written notification of the decision of the Fitness to Practise Panel.
1.96 The grounds of appeal are:
1.97 The Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or nominee) and a senior colleagues shall decide if the student has presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal.
1.98 If it is decided that the student has not presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal, the appeal will be dismissed and the student will be informed by the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the decision in writing, with reasons. If it is decided that the student has presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal, an Appeal Panel will be convened.
1.99 The Appeal Panel will carry out a review of the case and will have access to all documentation of the original Fitness to Practise Panel, including minutes. The student and the Chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel will receive copies of any documentation sent to the members of the Appeal Panel. New information, which was not available to the student at the time of the Fitness to Practise Panel meeting, may be presented to the Appeal Panel, who will consider it. Other than such new evidence, the Appeal Panel will only consider evidence relating to the grounds for the appeal submitted by the student. The appeal will not constitute a re-hearing of the case.
When convened, an Appeal Panel will normally consist of:
1.100 At all meetings of the Appeal Panel, four members (excluding the Secretary) will constitute a quorum but the Panel must include at least one member of the profession (not being a member of University staff) or two (where considered appropriate). The Panel’s decision will be a majority decision. Where a Panel’s decision is split, the Chair will have the casting vote.
1.101 No member of the Appeal Panel shall have been involved in the case previously. The School in which the student is enrolled must not take part in the process of selecting or nominating Appeal Panel members with the exception of the member of the relevant profession.
1.102 The Panel will be serviced by a Secretary who is not a member, but will be present throughout the proceedings. The Secretary will normally be a School or Faculty Administrator.
1.103 The student will be required to attend the meeting of the Appeal Panel in person. If the student fails to attend without reasonable explanation, the Appeal Panel may consider the case and reach a decision in the student’s absence. The Chair shall have discretion as to what constitutes a reasonable explanation.
1.104 Minutes shall be taken and retained as a formal record of the meeting.
Powers of the Appeal Panel
1.105 In making its decision, the remit of the Appeal Panel is to decide whether to dismiss the appeal or to refer the case back to the relevant School for consideration by another Fitness to Practise Panel. In such circumstances, no member of the new Fitness to Practise Panel shall have been involved in the case previously.
Notification of the decision of the Appeal Panel
1.106 The Chair of the Appeal Panel shall notify the student of the Panel’s decision in writing within eight working days of the decision being made. A copy of the decision shall also be sent to the Chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel, the relevant Head of School and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs and any other party, as directed by the Chair of the Appeal Panel (subject to regulations 1.38-1.40).
1.107 The letter will set out the reasons for the decision. If the appeal is upheld and the case referred back to the School for consideration by another Fitness to Practise Panel, the letter will address each ground of appeal cited by the student and will give reasons for upholding or not upholding the appeal on that ground.
Where the evidence of one person is preferred to the evidence of another person, the letter should state the Appeal Panel’s reasons.
1.107 Where it has been decided by the Head of School or Fitness to Practise Panel or Appeal Panel to proceed further with a concern, a record of the concern and any decisions made by the Fitness to Practise Panel shall remain on the student’s record.
1.108 The decision of the Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel is final; there is no further internal right of appeal. However, any student who feels aggrieved by the decision may make a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman within six months of notification of the University’s final decision.
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