Amended HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics to come into force in September 2024
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has announced its amended Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (‘SCPE’) will come into force on 1 September 2024. This will be the first time the SCPEs have been updated since January 2016. This follows the updating of the Standards of Proficiency for all 15 professions on 1 September 2023.
The SCPE are important as they:
- Set out in general terms how the HCPC expects Registrants to behave;
- Outline what the public should expect from their health and care professional;
- Help the HCPC make decisions about the character of professionals who apply to the register; and
- Are used if someone raises a concern about a Registrant’s practice. When things go wrong, they help the HCPC decide whether it is necessary to take action.
There will still be 10 SCPEs and the headings remain the same. There will be five key themes to the SCPEs, as follows:
- Equality, diversity and inclusion;
- Communication with colleagues, service users and carers;
- Duty of candour;
- Upskilling and training responsibilities; and
- Managing existing health conditions and disabilities in the workplace.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
The HCPC has made changes to the SCPEs that promote an active approach to ensuring that Registrants’ practice supports equality, diversity and inclusion. More active wording clarifies the expectation of Registrants around issues such as challenging discrimination, empowering service users and maintaining professional boundaries. The changes align with the amendments made to the Standards of Proficiency.
The HCPC has strengthened its language around treating service users and carers with respect, requiring Registrants to empower and enable (as opposed to the previous requirement to encourage and help) service users and support them to make informed decisions.
Updated Standard 1.4 provides further information around what constitutes valid consent (ie that is voluntary and informed).
The HCPC has added five new Standards in respect of maintaining professional boundaries, setting out more clearly what is expected of Registrants in terms of their behaviour towards service users, their carers as well as colleagues.
Communication with colleagues, service users and carers
The HCPC has made changes to encourage Registrants to focus on what they say and the language they are using regardless of whether they are communicating with service users, carers and colleagues in person or on social media and networking sites. The focus is now on what Registrants say, as opposed to where or to whom they say it.
The HCPC has added a new standard (Standard 2.8) which covers treating colleagues in a professional manner, showing them respect and consideration.
The HCPC has also added requirements for Registrants to make reasonable checks to ensure information they share on social media and networking sites is accurate, true, does not mislead the public and is in line with their duty to promote public health.
Duty of candour
The updated Standards regarding the duty of candour separates the requirement to apologise into its own Standard, highlighting the importance and centrality the HCPC places on this. The HCPC has also clarified the process Registrants must follow when something has gone wrong.
Upskilling and training responsibilities
The HCPC has provided further guidance around scope of practice and the changes highlight the need to make sure Registrants have the knowledge, skills and experience to practise safely and effectively. If they do not, then there is now an explicit requirement for them to refer service users to another practitioner who does have the requisite skills and experience.
Managing existing health conditions and disabilities in the workplace
The HCPC has clarified that Registrants only need to stop practising or adjust their practice where their physical or mental health will detrimentally impact their ability to practise safely or effectively. The HCPC has also recognised that Registrants may not always have the capacity to assess their own health and in such a case is allowed to ask an appropriate health and care professional to make an assessment on their behalf.
These new SCPEs set out much more clearly what is expected of Registrants and are much more prescriptive than the previous Standards. The biggest changes are in respect of maintaining professional boundaries and communication, with an emphasis on the way Registrants treat colleagues that was not within the previous Standards.
Maintaining professional boundaries (or the lack of), both with service users and colleagues comes up frequently in fitness to practise proceedings. It is a welcome addition that the HCPC has been much clearer on what is expected of Registrants in terms of maintaining professional boundaries with colleagues as well as service users. It is hoped that this new clarity will help Registrants avoid situations that may call their registration into question. It is also hoped that this new guidance will help the HCPC better understand what is a fitness to practise issue in terms of maintaining professional boundaries, and will avoid unnecessary cases clogging up the fitness to practise process.
In respect of the changes to communication, the key point the HCPC is highlighting is that it is about what a Registrant is saying that they are concerned with. Registrants must ensure they communicate responsibly and in a way that meets service users’ and their carers’ needs. They also must communicate responsibly on social media, ensuring that any information they share is accurate and not misleading. This helpfully provides further guidance on the use of social media that the previous Standards lacked, although it is unclear how far the “reasonable checks” to ensure information shared on social media is accurate must go. It is however clear that fitness to practise is not confined within the realms of a health and care professional’s professional life, but extends to information they share on social media and networking sites.
The amendments to the Standards pertaining to a Registrant’s health are welcomed. It is hoped that this will provide clarity to Registrants that just because they have a health condition, they do not necessarily need to report that to the HCPC or be subject to fitness to practise proceedings. It is only where their health condition is detrimentally impacting their work (and so they are unable to practise safely and effectively) and they have failed to either adjust their practice or stopped practising that they should be subject to fitness to practise proceedings. It is however unclear what or who would constitute an appropriate health and care professional, and some guidance from the HCPC on this point would be welcomed.
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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.