The Fitness to Practise Procedure covers programmes of study which lead to professional qualifications. Students who undertake such programmes of study are required to meet the academic and conduct standards set out by the University and by their regulatory body.
The programmes of study covered by the University’s Fitness to Practise Procedure and the related regulatory bodies are set out below:
|Dentistry||The General Dental Council|
The General Medical Council
|Nursing and Midwifery||
The Nursing and Midwifery Council
The General Pharmaceutical Council
The British Psychological Society
|Professional Legal Training||
The Law Society of Northern Ireland
The Bar Council of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Social Care Council
The General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland
This Guidance is intended to provide assistance for students involved in the Fitness to Practise Procedure. This Guidance should be read in conjunction with the Fitness to Practise Procedure. Where there is any doubt, the Fitness to Practise Procedure will take precedence over this guidance.
The University recognises that going through this procedure may be stressful and would encourage students to seek advice and support at an early stage from Advice SU.
Concerns about your health or conduct may be raised with your School by anyone, including a member of School staff, your placement supervisor, a member of your placement provider’s staff or a member of the public. Any condition or conduct which may affect your 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 under this Procedure.
Students may be considered unfit to practise on the grounds of, for example:
(This list is not exhaustive.)
The concerns may arise from a pattern of behaviour over a period of time, rather than one single incident. They may also relate to your conduct before admission to the University. Academic offences (eg plagiarism or cheating in an examination) may also be considered to be a fitness to practise issue, particularly where concerns are raised about your truthfulness or probity.
Health conditions or disabilities, including mental health difficulties, should not affect your fitness to practise, providing that they are appropriately addressed and managed by you. In such cases, the Fitness to Practise Procedure will only be invoked as a last resort if reasonable adjustments and other interventions have failed to address your behavioural issues.
Where it is considered that your behaviour may relate to physical or mental health, or to addiction problems, the University will also consider your fitness to study.
In cases where there are possible health, drug or alcohol related problems, you may be required to attend the Occupational Health Service, either before or after a Fitness to Practise Panel meeting. In addition, you may be required to attend an appointment with an independent expert (for example a psychiatrist), whose report would need to be provided to the Panel. It is particularly important that you attend any appointments with the Occupational Health Service and co-operate fully with the Service. You are entitled to withhold specialist reports about your health from the investigating officer or the Fitness to Practise Panel. However, unwillingness to disclose medical reports may prevent the investigating officer or the Fitness to Practise Panel from making a decision about your fitness to practise, which may have the effect of preventing you from returning to the course.
It is most important that you tell the truth at all times, both when preparing your written submission and when you are answering questions at the meeting itself. Honesty and trustworthiness are virtues that the panel will be looking for when they are considering your case. Being honest is more than telling the truth. Acting honestly means more than simply answering questions truthfully. It would be dishonest to allow a Panel to gain a false impression of a situation, even if you did not actually lie to do so.
The University understands that going through the Fitness to Practise Procedure can be a stressful experience. The University strongly advises you to seek help at an early stage.
Advice and guidance is available:
The University will not pay for your legal representation. However, if you are a member of a union or association, you may be entitled to free representation:
If you are a member, you are strongly encouraged to make contact with your defence society or trade union, and to do so without delay. They are likely to want to meet you, and to discuss the case with you, and it is vital that they have as much notice as possible as they will need time to help prepare your case including your written submission. In addition to helping you prepare for the Fitness to Practise meeting, your defence society or trade union may send a medico-legal adviser, a solicitor or a barrister to represent you at the Committee meeting. One reason for not delaying contacting your defence society or trade union is that one or other may decline to support you, in which case (if you are a member of more than one) you will need to contact another one (their policies about supporting students at Fitness to Practise Panel meetings are quite different).
If you decide to obtain professional representation, you should ensure that you give signed written consent for the University to discuss your case with them. Otherwise, the University will be prohibited from doing so under the data protection legislation.
If you decide to bring legal representation you must give at least 48 hours advance notice and the University will also be represented. As it may be difficult for the University to obtain legal representation at short notice, you should advise the member of School Office staff with whom you have been in contact as soon as possible - otherwise, your case may have to be postponed.
Yes. This is an important meeting. It is your opportunity to hear the concerns that have been raised about your conduct and to give an explanation or provide information to the investigating officer. You should let the investigating officer know about any difficulties you have encountered which may have affected your conduct.
If you are unable to attend, you should inform the investigating officer immediately. You must be able to give a good reason for not attending and should provide corroborating evidence (eg medical evidence).
If you fail to attend, without a good reason, the investigating officer can complete the report on the available information (without your input) and make a recommendation to the Head of School. The investigating officer will also bring it to the attention of the Head of School that you did not attend the investigation meeting, as required.
Yes. You have the right to be accompanied at any interview and/or meeting by a registered student of the University (which shall include a Students’ Union Sabbatical Officer), a member of University staff or University Chaplaincy. You are strongly advised to seek help from Advice SU at an early stage.
You also have the right to be legally represented. Where you opt to have legal representation, the University may also have legal advice and/or representation. At any interviews and/or meetings, the person legally representing you will be permitted to speak on your behalf but you will be expected to answer directly any questions put to you during an investigation or at a Fitness to Practise Panel meeting or Appeal Panel meeting.
Make sure that you arrive on time – take into account possible delays caused by traffic etc.
Make arrangements to be available all day unless the invitation letter gives a finishing time. It is difficult to know how long a meeting will take and the investigating officer, Fitness to Practise Panel or the Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel will want to have enough time to hear from you and to consider your case fully.
Bring the papers with you.
If you have a disability and need special arrangements, please let the investigating officer or the Panel Secretary know as soon as possible so that the appropriate arrangements can be made.
When a concern or concerns are raised about your behaviour, the Head of your School will appoint a member of staff to investigate the allegations against you. You will be invited to a meeting with the investigating officer.
The investigating officer will explain the concerns that have been raised about your conduct and will give you an opportunity to respond. This is your opportunity to explain what happened, to give the investigating officer the name/s of any witnesses or people who may have relevant information or to let the investigating officer know of any factors which affected your behaviour. You may wish to consider the following:
The investigating officer will gather information and may speak to any other person involved or anyone who may have information to contribute to the investigation. The investigating officer will then normally prepare a report, with recommendations, for consideration by the Head of School. This will usually be done within 15 working days of the investigating officer being appointed. However, there may be delays due to the unavailability of staff or the need to gather more information. If there is a delay, you will be notified.
The investigating officer may:
The investigating officer will send a report to your Head of School (or nominee). Your Head of School (or nominee), in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs (or nominee), will consider the investigating officer’s report and make a decision; the options available are:
If you do not agree with the decision of the Head of School, and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, to impose a warning, you may request that the matter is referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel by submitting a request in writing to the School office within five working days of notification of the decision.
If you refuse to give the required undertaking, the matter will be referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel.
You should be aware that, by accepting a warning or giving an undertaking, you are accepting that there was a case to answer against you and that the facts as set out by the Investigating Officer are correct and are admitted.
In certain circumstances, you may be referred directly to a Fitness to Practise Panel (eg:
A Fitness to Practise Panel is a University committee, set up to consider written and oral evidence presented by you and your School and any other relevant information (which may include information submitted by a placement supervisor, nurse or doctor etc). The Panel is tasked with making decisions about your future and will consider issues, including whether or not you are fit to practise and whether or not any special measures are needed either to guide and support you, or in the public interest.
A Fitness to Practise Panel will consist of:
A quorum will be the Chair plus two members, who must include a member of the relevant profession. The Panel’s decision will be a majority decision and, where the vote is split, the Chair will have the casting vote.
The Secretary to the Fitness to Practise Panel will normally be a School Administrator who will arrange the meeting, write to you to invite you to the meeting, prepare the papers for circulation to you and the Panel and attend the Panel meeting to take minutes. The Secretary is not a member of the Panel and will not be involved in making the decision about your future.
The Secretary is a key point of contact for you, and is the person to approach if you have any queries relating to the Fitness to Practise Panel.
Yes – you are required to attend the meeting. If you are unable to attend, you should inform the School Administrator immediately. You must provide a good reason for not being able to attend and may be asked to provide evidence to corroborate your reason for not attending. The Chair will decide whether you have provided a sufficient reason for not being able to attend.
If you do not attend and do not provide a sufficient reason, the Panel may make a decision in your absence. It is very important that you attend as it is an opportunity to set out your case or your version of events and/or to set out any mitigation you may consider relevant.
You should confirm your attendance as soon as possible.
Yes. You will be given at least five working days’ notice of the date, time and venue of the meeting. You will also be given a copy of the Fitness to Practice Procedure, the investigating officer’s report and any other documentation that the Fitness to Practise Panel will see. You should read all of this documentation carefully and bring it with you to the meeting because, when asking questions, the Panel may make reference to the papers. You should make a list of any questions you have or any points with which you disagree, and bring this list with you to the meeting, or you can include the list in your written submission.
Yes. You must give the Secretary of the Fitness to Practise Panel at least three working days’ notice of the name(s) of any witnesses, anyone accompanying you or representing you.
Witnesses may be examined, cross-examined and re-examined.
Yes. You may submit a written statement and any further evidence in support of your case. You should send this information to the Secretary of the Fitness to Practise Panel at least three working days before the meeting to allow time for it to be circulated to the Panel and the investigating officer. The meeting may have to be adjourned if documentation is received too late to give the Panel and the investigating officer time to read and consider it in advance of the meeting.
You may also submit a reference or a testimonial (see below).
You should make sure that you have read the Fitness to Practise Procedure, this guidance and the papers sent to you by the Panel Secretary carefully.
You should seek advice, guidance and support at an early stage (see above).
A Fitness to Practise Panel is not meant to be a witch-hunt. Whilst the School’s case may focus on the School’s concerns, the Panel will also wish to hear favourable information about you, such as positive reports from supervisors or testimonials from those who have taught you or employed you, so please feel free to include such material even if it has no apparent bearing on the case against you.
Testimonials should include the name, address and contact details of the author, should if possible be signed, and should explain how the author knows you. If the author of a testimonial knows why you have been referred to the FTP Committee, then it is helpful if the person can explain this in his or her letter.
You may wish to consider the following:
If you have mitigating circumstances, you should provide documentary evidence (eg medical evidence).
If you are in doubt about whether something is relevant, you should include it as the Panel cannot consider information it has not received.
You should not feel under pressure to accept any allegations which you feel are untrue or incorrect, but if you accept that the allegations are fair then it is helpful to acknowledge this in your written submission and explain what steps you have taken to improve or correct the position and what you will do in the future to prevent similar problems occurring.
The Investigating Officer will attend the meeting to explain to the Panel the School’s concerns about you. You are there to respond to those concerns. The Panel is neutral; it is not on the School’s side or your side. The job of the Panel is to read the papers, put questions to the investigating officer and to you in order to understand the case and then to arrive at conclusions about the facts of the case and to make a decision about the outcome.
The suggested protocol for a Fitness to Practise Panel is set out below; however, this may be changed or adapted to suit the particular circumstances of the meeting:
The Chair will:
The Chair of the Panel will try to ensure that there are regular breaks, but if for any reason you are finding it difficult please feel free to ask for a short break. If you become upset or stressed, do not be afraid to ask for some time to compose yourself.
A Fitness to Practise Panel may deal with your case in one of the following ways:
If you are unhappy with the decision of the Fitness to Practise Panel, you can appeal to a Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel on the following grounds:
You may appeal on either or both grounds by 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 of Practise Panel.
The Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or nominee) and a senior colleague will decide if you have presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal. If it is decided that you have not presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal, the appeal will be dismissed and you will be informed by the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the decision in writing, with reasons. If it is decided that you have presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal, an Appeal Panel will be convened.
An Appeal Panel will normally consist of:
The Appeal Panel will carry out a review of your case and will have access to all documentation of the original Fitness to Practise Panel, including minutes. You 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 you 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 you. The appeal will not constitute a re-hearing of the case.
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.
You will be notified of the Appeal Panel’s decision in writing to your QUB email address, normally within eight working days of the decision being taken. If there is a delay, you will be informed. The letter will address each ground of appeal 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.
The decision of the Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel is final; there is no further internal right of appeal. However, if you remain aggrieved by the decision of the Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel, you may make a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (https://nipso.org.uk/nipso/about-us/who-we-are/) within six months of notification of the University’s final decision.
If you withdraw from your course before the fitness to practice invetsigation is concluded, the University may either:
1. Continue with the investigation in accordance with the Fitness to Practice Procedure;
2. Suspend the investigation and recommence it if you apply for re-admission to the University. Any offer of a place will be conditional on completion of the investigation and the Fitness to Practice Procedure, and your compliance with any outcome or sanction applied (in addition to any other applicable conditions e.g. academic conditions).
I Have Given an Undertaking to My Head of School / Fitness to Practise Panel but Have Breached the Undertaking – What Will Happen?
If you breach the conditions of an undertaking set by your Head of School, the matter will normally be referred back to your Head of School who will consider what further steps should be taken. It will normally result in an immediate referral to a Fitness to Practise Panel in respect of the original concerns and your breach of the undertaking.
If you breach an undertaking given to a Fitness to Practise Panel, the matter will normally be referred back to the Fitness to Practise Panel in respect of the original concerns and the breach of the undertaking. Your Head of School/area of study will also be notified.
I Have Not Complied with the Conditions Set by My Head of School or A Fitness to Practise Panel – What Will Happen?
If you do not comply with conditions set by a Fitness to Practise Panel, the matter will normally be referred back to the Fitness to Practise Panel to decide what further action to take. Where possible, the Fitness to Practise Panel will comprise the same members as the original Panel. Your Head of School/area of study will also be notified.
Am I Suspended or Interrupted While Waiting for the Committee Meeting?
If your studies have been interrupted, or if you have been suspended, then you should already have been told this by your School. If there are any restrictions on what you can do, for example not being allowed to go on placements or use the University library, then you should have already been informed.
Can I Continue On the Programme After the Fitness to Practise Panel Meeting?
That will be a decision for the Fitness to Practise Panel. The Panel is most reluctant to discontinue studies, and will always consider ways that this can be avoided if possible.
What Is the Timescale – When Will the Meeting Be Held?
Delays will be avoided as much as possible. However, the School cannot begin to timetable the meeting until it has received all the paperwork, which may take a while to prepare, and delays can occur if you need to be seen and assessed by the Occupational Health Service and/or an independent specialist before the Fitness to Practise Panel meeting.
Also, some Panel members may be working part or full-time and may need time to cancel clinical commitments. In practice it is often difficult to timetable a Panel for less than 3 months after the referral and receipt of papers. There may be reasons why the meeting needs to be held more speedily than this, in which case every effort will be made to expedite the meeting. Please note that the timetabling of a Fitness to Practise Panel meeting is likely to be put on hold until the completion of:
Will Tutors, Supervisors, Mentors or Teachers Be Informed of My FTP Referral?
Whilst your programme director is likely to be informed, other staff involved in supervising or teaching you will probably not be informed.
Will I Have to Tell Anybody I Have Been Referred to the FTP Committee?
It may be necessary for the Fitness to Practise Panel decision letter to be copied to others (for example, the Occupational Health Service). You may also be required to advise your regulatory body that you were the subject of Fitness to Practise proceedings, even if the case against you was dismissed. It is incumbent on you to check the requirements of your regulatory body.
Queen's University Belfast is committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
For more information please read our Equality and Diversity Policy.
Queen's University Belfast is registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC101788
VAT registration number: GB 254 7995 11