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My experience of receiving a fitness to practise concern

College of Paramedics member Rebecca Connolly MCPara shares her experience of receiving a fitness to practise concern.

My experience of receiving a fitness to practise concern

I have been a member of the College of Paramedics since 2013 and had little cause to use their insurance protection until 2015 when I received a HCPC fitness to practise (FtP) concern.

I’ve been a paramedic for four years, I’m proud of the job I do – and I’m good at it.  I pride myself on delivering exceptional clinical care and so to receive notification of the concern was a huge blow both professionally and personally.  I remember receiving a large parcel through the post with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) logo on – I immediately knew it couldn’t have been good.  When I opened the parcel, there was a letter from the HCPC detailing the concern with all their evidence attached.  I didn’t receive an initial letter as some people do and it was like I’d been punched in the stomach. The crippling sense of nausea and fear was something that will remain with me. The contents of the HCPC’s letter and evidence was presented in such a formal and legal way, completely unexpectedly that I immediately felt guilty without even being given the chance to defend myself, against what appeared to be a malicious allegation.  I felt utterly vulnerable, and it honestly felt like I was on a criminal trial.

I started to try and put together a plan to deal with it and so contacted the College of Paramedics in relation to their FtP insurance.  Following the completion of a claim form I was directed via Abbey Legal to Andrea James of Knights 1759 firm of solicitors.  From the outset she reassured me, took everything on board and took full ownership of my case.  This was a hugely reassuring step because I didn’t feel so alone.  I still felt massively vulnerable due to the number of unknowns – we all want to remain in practice and so the mere possibility of being struck off remained with me every day.

She took the time to set up a meeting and asked me lots of questions, detailing my side of events, what happened and why.  My case was unusual in some respects but she formulated a detailed plan and confirmed that she could take my case for me.  From that point, I had little contact with the HCPC as everything was completed vicariously through her – and this was brilliant.  She advised me to continue to work as normal and try not to worry too much.  

During this period, I was asked to collate various pieces of information for them and obtain character and clinical references that would form part of the response to the Investigation Committee.  I was informed of everything every step of the way and I believe that Andrea – who is a partner at the law firm – went out of her way to keep in contact and reassure me.  The fact that she was my point of contact was a great relief – it wasn’t passed to a junior member of staff and I was never passed from pillar to post.  Any questions were answered expediently and nothing was too much trouble.  She appointed an expert to produce a report for me and all this was covered by the College’s standard insurance cover, which is part of full membership. 

Following the Investigating Committee meeting in early 2016 it was found that the case would proceed to a hearing and the HCPC’s rationale baffled both myself and the solicitor in that the presumption of guilt was evident from the outset with no regard to expert evidence submitted.  This was hugely stressful and I found that I lost further confidence in work – any letter that came for me was immediately met with panic attacks, I was so worried and it permeated into every aspect of my life.  When you’re passionate about the job, and genuinely care about doing it well, the thought of losing it has perhaps been one of the most stressful experiences of my life.

It was some relief to know that I was fully supported by my legal team, which at this point included Andrea and a very well-respected QC who was appointed to represent me at the hearing.  Another two experts were also appointed to conduct reports in preparation for the hearing.  The HCPC has guidelines and standards about times of hearings etc but mine took ages – well over a year.  This year was hell, and I don’t use that word lightly: I couldn’t apply for jobs as I had to declare the ongoing investigation which precluded me from most.  I was stressed about it, I lost sleep, remained anxious at any letter coming – in fact I remember receiving a letter from the HCPC to which I had a full-blown panic attack, and all it contained was arbitrary information about some changes they were making.  I lost so much confidence in my ability, and I was so worried about receiving another FtP issue.  I felt I was an awful clinician, that I would lose my job and that my life was essentially over.

By this time, I had got to know Andrea quite well, and she me.  I felt that she was personally invested in helping me professionally.  I genuinely felt like she wanted to do her best, not for anything other than because she cared.  This meant a huge amount to me and something for which I’ll always be grateful.  Both Andrea and the QC were very honest and upfront about potential outcomes and what would be reasonable etc and so I was never left in any doubt as to what was at stake – this is important for helping come to terms with it.

Eventually the hearing date came about, over 12 months following the Investigation Committee meeting.  By this time, I was quite looking forward to it: I just wanted it done and dusted so whatever happened I could move on with my life.  In the meantime, I had continued my work as a paramedic and obtained several commendations, so I knew that in any case I had done my best.  Every time I got frustrated at a late finish or something, I reminded myself that my job, my vocation was in jeopardy and I should be thankful that I could do it.

The hearing itself was extremely well organised and I cannot fault the HCPC in any way.  It was impeccable and fairly run.  Everyone was polite and the HCPC’s Presenting Officer was fair and decent in the way she presented her case.  The hearing was scheduled for three days but lasted for only two as the panel decided the allegation was not well founded.  This was a HUGE relief and something I’m still coming to terms with – over two years of stress had been resolved.

I cannot express in words how grateful I am to the College of Paramedics and to Andrea and her team at Knights 1759 who worked tirelessly to bring me the outcome I felt was warranted.  It would not have been possible had it not been for my membership of the College of Paramedics as the total fees I believe were likely in the region of £20,000 from start to finish.  I genuinely cannot imagine going through the process I’ve gone through without that professional support. 

I still get nervous when the Royal Mail van arrives outside my house, and any letter or email from the HCPC sends me panicking – it probably will for a while yet.  I still lack confidence in my practice and worry about decisions I’ve made long after I’ve made them.  The effects from my experience will stay with me forever, but I’m thankful that I’ve had them.  The experience with the HCPC has been mixed in that I felt ignored and presumed guilty from the outset, but from the Investigation Committee result onwards I can’t fault them.

I wanted to write this for many reasons:
1.    To express thanks and gratitude to the team of professionals who helped me, and to thank my colleagues and friends who submitted wonderful references;
2.    To try and offer some support to paramedic colleagues who may be going through the FtP process;
3.    To try and give more information about the hearing itself as to what happens, to provide reassurance;
4.    To urge every paramedic who reads this to join the College, if not already done so.  It is absolutely worth the £9.00 monthly fee, if only for the FtP insurance.  

The support I received far exceeded expectations.  The College were wonderful in dealing with my initial enquiry and the process felt built to help and support me.  We as a profession need to support one another and can only do this with the strength of one voice provided by the College of Paramedics.

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 Read the Blog: 10 Things you should know if a concern is raised about your fitness to practise

26 06 2017

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