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Improving the experience of witnesses in health and care professional practice proceedings

Wed 16 November 2022

three women sitting beside each other

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has awarded researchers from The Open University (OU), Manchester Metropolitan University, the Universities of Oxford, Glasgow and Edinburgh more than £141,000 to expand their world-first study of witnesses’ experience of giving evidence during health and social care workers’ professional conduct hearings.

The additional funding follows the NIHR’s award of close to £750,000 to the project in 2021. It will enable a new focus on the professionals regulated by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), which covers 7.7% of the Scottish workforce.

The project, Witness to harm, holding to account: Improving patient, family and colleague witnesses’ experiences of Fitness to Practise proceedings, mainly focuses on cases where there are allegations of harm. This focus should help regulators and employers identify potential improvements to support witnesses whose role in giving evidence is crucial to a fair hearing.

New focus

Since September 2021, the project has explored the experiences of witnesses involved in Fitness to Practise (FtP) proceedings with UK health and social care regulators. It aims to determine what support witnesses expect, what they receive and what they need. The researchers are exploring current best practice and potential improvements to how the public engages with FtP processes to develop workable recommendations, videos and other support resources for the public and professional bodies.

Including SSSC’s s cases will add Scottish social workers and workers in social care, child care, housing and criminal justice systems to the project. In addition, the researchers will engage with employers and service users in sharing results and developing an animation to communicate key messages to all regulators, regulatory lawyers and professional bodies, health and social care educators and employers.

Annie Sorbie, Lecturer in Law (Medical Law and Ethics) at Edinburgh Law School and a co-investigator on the project said: “The provision of written and oral evidence by witnesses is a crucial part of the fitness to practise process.  This helps to ensure that when regulators make decisions about whether health and care professionals are fit to practise, these are fair, timely and protect the public.  Our study will provide novel insights into the experiences of witnesses and use these findings to create resources and guidance that enable people to be better supported when they provide evidence. I will be producing a report comparing the systems of regulation of the devolved Scottish government and the public’s involvement in professional regulation. I am delighted to work on this NIHR-funded project with colleagues across the UK and from a range of disciplinary backgrounds.​”

Read the full article on the OU website

View project website