Whilst many students or trainees have a vague idea of what it means to be professionally regulated, they will only truly understand the full extent of their professional obligations when they join the register and face the stark reality of potentially receiving a patient complaint or being brought before their regulator.
This article aims to demystify what it means to be a regulated professional (‘a professional’) and hopefully enables current students and trainees to understand their professional obligations prior to qualification, and any associated period(s) of training, as well as acting as a helpful reminder to those professionals already on the register.
Which professionals are professionally regulated?
Professionals include Doctors, Dentists, Optometrists, Social Workers, , Pharmacists, Nurses, Midwives, Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Psychologists amongst many others.
Some professionals are statutory regulated meaning the law requires them to be regulated whilst others are voluntary regulated e.g. they have chosen to become regulated.
Although all of the professionals highlighted above vary in skill and expertise, they are all subject to similar professional obligations.
What are these professional obligations?
In large, and whilst on the register, a professional is obliged to:
- Maintain their registration – This involves renewing their registration each year with the regulator by the stipulated deadline, paying an annual retention fee, and declaring that they remain competent or fit to practise on an annual basis.
- Maintain their competence – A professional is required to complete continuing professional development (‘CPD’) each year to maintain and develop their knowledge, skill and experience. This can include completing a stipulated number of CPD hours, CPD points, or completing required CPD based on the professional’s identified learning and development needs. A professional can also be subject to a CPD spot check known as a ‘CPD audit’ whereby the regulator checks the CPD completed.
- Adhere to prescribed Standards or a Code of Conduct – Each regulator will have a Code of Conduct or prescribed Standards which professionals need to abide by when practicing. These Codes of Conduct or Standards are sector specific and act as a benchmark against which a professional will be held accountable should they be subject to disciplinary (Fitness to Practise) proceedings. A regulator may also produce supplementary guidance to provide assistance to professionals on a particular matter or in connection with a specific obligation, and a professional is responsible for ensuring that they are familiar with their Standards/Codes of Conduct and any associated guidance issued.
- Be open and transparent with the regulator – A professional is required to fully cooperate with a request for information received from their regulator and any regulatory investigations commenced, whether against themselves or another professional. A professional is also required to be open and honest with their regulator and make the necessary declarations e.g. notification of a conviction, being the subject of an investigation by another body, having a health matter which affects their Fitness to Practise etc.
- Demonstrate a greater level of integrity – A greater level of integrity is expected of professionals within their professional lives and to a certain extent, their personal lives so as not to undermine the trust and confidence which the public places in the profession and which the profession expects of them.
Why is a greater level of integrity expected of a professional?
Professionals hold a privileged and trusted role in society and as such, a greater level of integrity is expected of them. Therefore, when a professional’s integrity is called into question, and such conduct could bring the reputation of the profession into disrepute, the regulator is likely to step in and take action against the professional. This includes conduct which takes place in a professional’s personal life such as:
- Posting inappropriate content online from a social media account which clearly states the author is a professional.
- Making unwanted sexual advances towards a junior colleague outside of work.
- Receiving a ‘drink drive’ conviction.
- Taking illegal drugs over the weekend which affects a professional’s performance at work the following week.
Whilst many regulated professionals may not appreciate the regulator’s incursion into their private lives, this is part and parcel of being professionally regulated and as Sir Thomas Bingham in Bolton v Law Society  1 WLR said “the reputation of the profession is more important that the fortunes of any individual member. Membership of a profession brings many benefits, but that is a part of the price”.
If you are a healthcare professional and require assistance in connection with a Fitness to Practice investigation, speak with Ridouts on 0207 317 0340.