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‘Disgraceful’ regulator’s 10-year case delay

Published on: 17 Apr 2024

A regulator overseeing 340,000 professionals breached a psychologist’s human rights by letting their fitness-to-practise case go on for a decade, amid widespread very long delays, it has emerged.

A judgment from the Health and Care Professions Tribunal said the “lamentable” situation for the registrant was down to the “disgraceful… manner in which the Healthcare Professions Council dealt with their case”.

The HCPC oversees professional standards for several groups including radiographers, paramedics, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and operating department practitioners.

If a complaint is made about a registrant, it can investigate and refer them to the tribunal, which can strike them off.

The judgment in March from the tribunal panel in the case of the practitioner psychologist said: “The case reflected a lack of urgency on the part of the HCPC as a regulator and a lamentable series of avoidable failures and errors. The panel considered that there was an overall lack of diligence on the part of the HCPC in the manner in which it dealt with the investigation of the referral.

“The panel was wholly satisfied that the manner in which the HCPC dealt with the registrant’s case was disgraceful.” There has not yet been a conclusion in the substantive case against the individual, who is not named in the findings. 

Meanwhile, the HCPC’s latest board papers said that, as of December, the median average time for start to conclusion of cases was 109 weeks – about two years and one month. Its report on fitness to practise proceedings also said there had been “an increase in new cases since June 2023”.

The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care, which oversees regulatory bodies, told HSJ  the HCPC had not met its timeliness standard since 2014-15, and that it had raised concerns to government and the Commons health and social care committee about the issue three times since 2020.

And partner at Keystone Law Andrea James, who specialises in fitness to practise, said: “This case is not that exceptional in terms of the speed at which the HCPC progresses fitness to practise cases. We are currently awaiting final hearing listings on a number of HCPC cases dating back to 2017.

“Despite the HCPC claiming to be working to ‘embed a compassionate approach to regulation’, I have yet to see any evidence of this in practice.”

Professional bodies told HSJ  the drawn-out proceedings could be devastating for their members.

The Society of Radiographers said the current speed of cases was “simply unacceptable” and its director of industrial strategy Dean Rogers added: “Our members spend too long working — and living — under the intense scrutiny of their regulator, often under the control of an interim order restricting or even preventing their practise while investigations drag on.”

The College of Paramedics said one member had been in the fitness to practise system for five years.

Chief executive Tracy Nicholls said: “Whilst we have seen some improvements in the longest outlying cases over the last year, there are still far too many members’ cases that have been going through the process for too long.

“Whilst the HCPC have recently set up a helpline for registrants which the college signposts its members to, what we really need to see is meaningful movement of the cases that remain outstanding. This will reduce the very real impact on our members’ mental health and wellbeing when going through this process.”

The HCPC apologised to the registrant in the 10-year case and said it was speeding up the process.

Laura Coffey, its director of FtP, said: “The circumstances of each fitness to practise case are different, and often unique. Many can be extremely complex. We will always seek to progress to the appropriate outcome as efficiently as possible.

“Over the last three years we have delivered a significant programme to improve the quality and pace of our fitness to practise case management.”