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Fitness to practise - PI071901
Public interest case July 2019 | Partly Justified
A student who was starting a healthcare course at the provider filled out an occupational health questionnaire. The student informed the provider that they had not had any vaccinations and would not now consent to be vaccinated.
The provider did not review the questionnaire until after the student began the course. Its policy at the time was to wait until enrolment before reviewing students’ questionnaires, to avoid having to review the forms of students who did not go on to enrol.
A couple of months after the student started the course the questionnaire was reviewed, and concerns were raised about the student’s safety for practical work. Staff spoke to the student about the consequences of not being immunised, and the provider decided to begin a Fitness to Practise process.
The Fitness to Practise Committee determined that the student’s fitness to practise was impaired. It acknowledged the student’s right to choose not to be vaccinated. The committee considered whether the student had shown sufficient insight into the transferral of infections and viruses, and whether self-assessment of their own health would be a suitable precaution to mitigate the risk of infecting others. The committee concluded that allowing the student to continue on the course would put their health and the health of patients at risk. The student was withdrawn from the course but permitted to transfer to a non-professional programme.
The student lodged a complaint and appeal against this decision. The provider upheld the complaint on the basis that the provider’s information for applicants had not been sufficiently clear and the occupational health process could have been progressed more promptly. The provider’s website did not appear to have information about vaccination requirements, the letter offering the student a place on the course made no reference to vaccination requirements, and there was no information to inform applicants that occupational health questionnaires would not be looked at immediately. The provider offered the student £5,000 compensation.
The provider rejected the student’s appeal against the decision that the student was not fit to practise.
The student complained to us about both matters. We decided that the complaints were Partly Justified.
We concluded that there were delays in the provider’s handling of the appeal and we recommended £5,000 in compensation for the distress this caused the student. But we concluded that it was appropriate for the provider to use the fitness to practise procedures, that those procedures were followed and that the process was fair and transparent, giving the student a fair opportunity to respond to the case. The provider got professional advice from authoritative bodies and experts in the study and practice of the relevant healthcare field. The provider weighed the student’s choice to refuse vaccinations and the impact of this choice in relation to the safety of patients and others. The provider’s conclusions involved professional judgment, and it had demonstrated the decision was reasoned and evidence-based.
We also looked at the student’s concerns about the complaint they raised. We concluded that the provider’s offer went some way to compensating the student. But the student had paid for accommodation that they might not have needed if the provider had told them about the vaccination requirements before they started the course. We recommended that the provider increase its offer to £9,342. We also recommended that any reference from the provider should give details of the fitness to practise process. It should explain that the process arose because the provider had wrongly allowed the student to register on a programme that they could not complete given the vaccination requirements.
Finally, we also recommended that the provider take steps to review when and how it handles occupational health forms and the information made available to prospective students, so that key requirements for the course are made clear in advance.