Since the advent of the regulators under New Labour, the area of Professional Discipline has developed beyond recognition. Allegations of misconduct and competence increasingly move with the times to reflect the changing working practices of professionals across health, care, accountancy, and the legal professions, especially when it comes to the ever-increasing role that technology plays in our working lives.
Whether in the bright new world of cases contested entirely over remote technology, or in the more traditional setting of an in-person hearing, professional discipline cases require strategic decision making from an early stage, detailed preparation, and robust advocacy. The challenges of investigating fitness to practise referrals were sharpened by the pandemic, leading to delays in cases reaching final hearings. This can place regulators at a strategic disadvantage, particularly when the subject of allegations has been practising in the interim.
It is for this reason that the merits of a case are always at the forefront of our minds, and you can expect to receive detailed advice from an early stage. We are happy to provide advice and advocacy in relation to interim applications, procedural legal arguments and evidential issues all the way through to sanction and appeal.
Members of chambers regularly act in professional discipline tribunals across a variety of professions. We most regularly act for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the General Dental Council (GDC), and the General Optical Council (GOC), and accept instructions in all areas of professional discipline.
Having undergone training in the criminal courts, our professional discipline team approaches each case with skills that are entirely suited to the environments of professional disciplinary hearings, including meticulous preparation of legal arguments, witness handling that is forensic yet sensitive, and a team-centered approach.
It is often said that to be a member of one of the professions is a privilege. To provide support to members of the public in their hour of need, whether in relation to their physical or mental wellbeing, their liberty, or their finances.
High standards are rightly expected by the public of those appointed to the professions but, after more than a decade of austerity, we live in an age when professionals of all types are asked to do more for less.
Being the subject of an allegation of impaired fitness to practice is often a stressful and demoralising experience, even when it is foreseeable. Whether your compatibility as a member of your profession is being questioned in relation to issues of misconduct, competence, or health, such an allegation is an invitation to a side of the professional world that few, if any, contemplate becoming involved in when they first set foot in newly qualified practice.
Professionals who face criminal accusations often face double the stress, having to confront threats to their liberty as well as their ability to practise as a member of their profession in the future. Decisions in court or tribunal frequently have implications in the other and it is impossible to separate one from the other.
The outpouring of goodwill that was generated by the heroic efforts of the healthcare professions during the pandemic is giving way to frustration at longer waiting lists. Doctors, nurses and others are still being asked to do more work under ever greater pressure. Public dissatisfaction at longer waiting lists manifests itself in increased levels of assault on staff, and it is only a matter of time before more professional discipline cases are heard which reflect the strained atmosphere that hangs over the professions.
Drystone’s professional discipline team frequently act for individual professionals, either through their professional representative body, such as the Royal College of Nursing, or for individuals without such representation who we can engage with on a Direct Access basis.
Decisions that are taken in the early stages of a case have ramifications months or years later when substantive hearings are held. It is for this reason that, at Drystone, we put continuity front and centre of our approach to representing individuals facing fitness to practise cases.
From interim orders through to complex hearings involving multiple parties and expert evidence, it is crucial that you get representatives who can advise you about the implications of your decisions from the outset of the case.
The work of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) encompasses the regulation of nursing and care homes, domiciliary care agencies, and hospitals to name a few. Its remit is vast, taking in the performance of institutions and companies, and the individuals at their helm. The CQC plays a vital role in overseeing the services provided to vulnerable people up and down the land.
When problems are identified, they can lead to criminal or civil enforcement action, and sometimes both. The professional discipline team at Drystone accepts instructions to represent the Care Quality Commission itself and to represent companies, their directors and responsible individuals facing allegations of malpractice.
Our team has a detailed understanding of the requirements of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 as well as subsequent primary and secondary legislation. The regulatory framework that underpins the CQC’s inspection process is broad in scope and detailed.
When you instruct us, you will soon discover that our knowledge of that framework and of the statutory policies and procedures will allow advice to be given in a comprehensive and timely fashion.
The focus of the Care Quality Commission, as well as the courts and tribunals considering allegations of failure to comply with Regulations, is first and foremost the health and wellbeing of service users. For that reason, we provide realistic, proportionate advice about the merits at each stage of every case. If you are a company or individual facing allegations, we can provide advice as to how to work with the CQC to improve the service you provide to clients or patients.
Whether acting for the Commission or for an Appellant company or individual, we understand that successful oral advocacy in the Crown Court, the First Tier Tribunal of the High Court and beyond is founded on the preparation of quality written advocacy, whether in the form of Scott Schedules, skeleton arguments or other documentation.