Living life in limbo: experiences of healthcare professionals during the HCPC fitness to practice investigation process in the UK
BMC Health Services Research
Background It is the responsibility of healthcare regulators to ensure healthcare professionals remain fit for practice in healthcare settings. If there are concerns about an individual healthcare professional they may undergo a fitness to practice investigation. This process is known to be hugely stressful for doctors and social workers, but little is known about the impact of this experience on other professions. This study explores the experiences of registrants going through the process of
... eing reported to the UK's Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and attending fitness to practice (FTP) hearings. We discuss the implications of this process on registrants' wellbeing and, from our findings, present recommendations based on registrants experiences. In doing so we articulate the structural processes of the HCPC FTP process and the impact this has on individuals. Methods This study uses semi-structured interviews and framework analysis to explore the experiences of 15 registrants who had completed the FTP process. Participants were sampled for maximum variation and were selected to reflect the range of possible processes and outcomes through the FTP process. Results The psychological impact of undergoing a FTP process was significant for the majority of participants. Their stories described influences on their wellbeing at both a macro (institutional/organisational) and micro (individual) level. A lack of information, long length of time for the process and poor support avenues were macro factors impacting on the ability of registrants to cope with their experiences (theme 1). These macro factors led to feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability and threat of ruin for many registrants (theme 2). Suggested improvements (theme 3) included better psychological support (e.g. signposting or provision); proportional processes to the incident (e.g. mediation instead of hearings); and taking context into account. Conclusions Findings suggest that improvements to both the structure and conduct of the FTP process are warranted. Implementation of better signposting for support both during and after a FTP process may improve psychological wellbeing. There may also be value in considering alternative ways of organising the FTP process to enable greater consideration of and flexibility for registrants' context and how they are investigated.