19 May 2022
Our Professional Discipline & Clinical Defence team provides a round up of the recent approach to remote hearings taken by some of the healthcare regulators.
General Pharmaceutical Council
This month, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has agreed a permanent rule change to give itself the express legal power to direct that fitness to practise hearings should be held remotely. It is expected that the new rules will come into force on 1 October 2022.
78% of survey responses supported the GPhC’s proposal to continue remote hearings. However, as noted by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), it is unclear what statistics the GPhC has collected on registrant attendance for remote hearings versus in person hearings, and whether feedback on participant satisfaction has been systematically collected.
The GPhC’s consultation was limited to the principle of holding remote hearings, rather than seeking feedback on the specifics of the GPhC’s remote hearing guidance. The GPhC has committed to a review of its existing guidance on remote hearings and updated guidance is expected to be published in September 2022. However, it is not clear whether the GPhC will consult on the factors it should take into account when considering the suitability of a hearing to proceed remotely in order to ensure that the integrity and fairness of fitness to practise hearings is preserved.
General Optical Council
In late 2021, the General Optical Council (GOC) consulted on a revised protocol on remote hearings. Unlike the GPhC’s consultation, the GOC’s consultation sought feedback on the substance of its draft protocol outlining the ‘suitability factors’ it proposed to take into account to help guide decisions on whether a hearing should be in person or remote. The consultation led to the publication of the GOC’s ‘Remote Hearings Protocol’ in December 2021.
The protocol includes a comprehensive list of factors that the GOC will consider when deciding the suitability of a hearing to proceed remotely. The protocol distinguishes between suitability factors if ‘no or minimal government restrictions are in place’ and if ‘increased or enhanced government restrictions are in place’. Where no government restrictions are in place, if the registrant would prefer the event to be heard in person, an in person hearing will be arranged. Where increased or enhanced government restrictions are in place, the Hearings team will consult the parties and their representatives to determine what mode of hearing is appropriate for each case, taking into account the relevant suitability factors.
It is recommended that professional discipline practitioners familiarise themselves with the GOC’s ‘Remote Hearings Protocol’ when considering submissions on remote versus in person hearings before any of the healthcare regulators, as the protocol provides useful guidance.
General Dental Council
The General Dental Council has adopted a blanket policy that, whilst the COVID-19 pandemic and its after-effects continue to have an impact, the majority of GDC hearings will continue to be held remotely, with in person or hybrid hearings being the exception. If a request for an in person hearing is received, the GDC’s primary submission will always be that hearings should be held remotely, unless this is considered to be “unfeasible or inappropriate”. The GDC’s position is that remote hearings provide the best balance between public safety and the efficient exercise of the GDC’s statutory responsibilities.
It is understood that the GDC’s decision to have remote hearings as the default position has been made without consultation or formal input from stakeholders. The GDC has published guidance on the factors that it will take into consideration when deciding whether to hold a remote or in person hearing (see the ‘GDC Fitness to Practise: Preliminary Meeting Guidance’). However, the guidance is brief and, in our experience, the bar to allow an in-person hearing is very high.
If you have any questions, please contact our Professional Discipline & Clinical Defence team.
Laura Donald, Partner: email@example.com / 0131 222 2939