Fitness to Practise Inquiries
If the Preliminary Proceeding Committee (PPC) comes to a decision that further action is warranted, they may refer the case to the Fitness to Practise Committee (FTPC) and an inquiry into the doctors’ fitness to practise is held. The inquiry is similar to that of a court hearing, in that sworn oral evidence is given and allegations are presented to the Fitness to Practise panel.
The panel is made up of three people, two non-medical and one medical. A legal advisor also sits with the committee to advise them on matters of law which many arise during the course of the inquiry. The advisor does not have part in the decision making process.
If a complaint is referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee for an inquiry, the Council will advise the complainant of:
- when the inquiry will be held, the expected duration of the hearing, and;
- if they will be called as a witness to give evidence before the Committee
Fitness to Practise Inquiries are usually held in public, this means anyone can attend the inquiry hearing. The Council can make a decision that the hearing is to be held in private, if it is in the public's best interest to do so. An application can be made by a complainant, a witness or the doctor to hold all or part of the inquiry in private and the committee decides if it's appropriate to do so.
The CEO's role at an inquiry is to present the evidence and acts in the public interest at all times, not on any one individual’s behalf. The CEO presents allegations based on evidence, and can only proceed with allegations which are supported by independent evidence.
The complainant may be called as a witness and obliged to give evidence at the FTP inquiry. Witnesses will not be provided with all of the information relating to the case in order to protect their impartiality. If a witness was briefed on the information another witness was to provide during the inquiry, this could be judged to sway their own evidence and open it up to legal challenge.
Like a court hearing, both parties have an opportunity to present their case. The CEO's legal team may call witnesses, independent medical experts or others if required, as can the doctor or their legal team. The FTPC may also question the witnesses.
At the conclusion of the evidence, the FTPC will vacate the room to come to a decision, based on the evidence given, whether the allegations are proven or not. The decision is then conveyed to the parties when finalised.
If allegations are proven at an inquiry what can happen?
If the Fitness to Practise Committee finds that one or more allegations are proven the Medical Council must impose one or more of the following sanctions:
Advise, admonish or a censure in writing
- Censure in writing and fine not exceeding €5,000
- Attach conditions to a doctor's registration
- Transfer a doctor's registration to another division of the register
- Suspend a doctor's registration for a specified period
- Cancel a doctor's registration
- Prohibit a doctor from applying for restoration to the register for a specified period
If the Medical Council decides to impose any of the above sanctions, except for advice, admonishment and censure, there is a right of appeal against the Medical Council's decision to the High Court. If no appeal is made against the Medical Council's decision, the Medical Council must apply to the High Court for confirmation of its decision. The Council does not need confirmation from the High Court if the sanction is to advise, admonish or censure.