Fitness to Practise is a legal process that only applies to certain professions. It applies while you are studying at university or college and in your career.
These professions have a legal requirement to protect the public and to meet legal standards for safety. Everyone who applies to join these courses of study will be asked to complete the same health declaration.
If you are returning to your studies after a break, you may be asked to do the health declaration again. Your health may have changed. This may prompt questions or concerns that were not raised before you took time off. The university may ask you to attend a Fitness to Practise assessment. This should only happen if they have serious concerns about:
your ability to practise safely in your chosen profession
professional standards and safety
They should never ask you to have a Fitness to Practise assessment just because you are disabled or you have taken time off.
All professional bodies and your university should publish their Fitness to Practise procedures online. If you have a Fitness to Practise assessment, they should tell you what will happen and what you need to do.
1. Cause for concern meeting
This should be a supportive meeting. Your wellbeing should be a priority. It may be held in your teaching department, for example, with your course tutor. If you are asked to go to a meeting like this, it's OK to ask whether it is part of a formal process.
Your tutor should:
explain why they have asked you to the meeting
talk about the university's concerns
consider any reasonable adjustments that the university could make to help you practise safely
agree a plan of action
An action plan might include:
changes to your workload, if your course involves workplace study, such as a student nurse working in a hospital
arrangements for specialist technical or personal support
being referred to an occupational health specialist to look at how you could practise safely
If these measures do not address their concerns, the university may refer your case for investigation.
Your university must consider reasonable adjustments
With the return to campuses and face-to-face teaching, universities may have particular rules around coronavirus. Breach of these rules may trigger a Fitness to Practice assessment. But these rules should not be unfair to disabled students. For example, you should not have to wear a face mask if you have a condition that makes this difficult.
All universities have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled students are not disadvantaged. These adjustments will be different for each student. They could include:
changes to your environment, such using accessible classrooms or private study areas
personal support, such as notetakers or interpreters
assistive technology, such as communication aids or digital recorders
changes to your timetable, to give you enough time to rest or extra time to complete exams
access to information in different formats
lecture capture, including recordings you can review later
speech to text for video conferencing
You should discuss your needs with your university's disability service. Do not assume that they will know what they need to do to help you. The university should talk with you about what is possible and what will benefit you. Make your requests in writing and keep a copy of any emails or letters.
If your university refuses to make reasonable adjustments, this could be discrimination.
For example, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has a specialist team to investigate concerns. They will work with you and your university to resolve issues at an early stage.
The person leading the investigation should talk to you to:
make sure you understand the concerns raised
allow you to contribute to the investigation
allow you to ask questions about the evidence
3. Fitness to Practise Hearing
Once the investigation is complete, you will attend a formal hearing.
This meeting normally takes place at your university when you are ready to return to your studies. If you have had time off for health reasons, you can ask that it takes place once you have had time to recover. A panel will look at evidence and decide if you can continue to study.
The panel may ask you to:
answer questions about the evidence
explain your situation and respond to concerns
make your case for why are you able to return to your studies
Who might be at the hearing
A representative of the university
A legal adviser who is there to keep the process fair but not there to represent you
Someone taking notes
A medical adviser
The person who carried out the investigation, who will present evidence
Solicitors acting for the professional body or the university
A representative of the professional body
Both you and the panel can call witnesses to the hearing.
For example, if there are concerns about your mental health, you might want to bring a mental health professional who knows you well. They can talk about your history and how you are now.
Who to bring with you
You may bring anyone that you feel can help you to:
make your case
understand the information and decisions
You can also ask for a students' union representative to attend.
You may wish to appoint a legal representative to argue your case and help you to gather and present evidence.
You are entitled to see the evidence in advance of the hearing. You can present any evidence that you believe will support your case. This might include:
references from family or support professionals
correspondence between you and your university about reasonable adjustments
your needs assessment for your return to study
Ask for reasonable adjustments
There should be no barriers to you putting your case across. If you need reasonable adjustments so that the hearing is accessible to you, write to ask for these in advance.
For example, you may ask that the hearing takes place in a specific place or at a certain time of day. You might need documents in a format that allows you to access all the information that the panel has.