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


The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has awarded researchers from The University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, The Open University (OU), Manchester Metropolitan University, and the Universities of Oxford 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.

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 cases in the research will add a focus on service users of social workers and workers in social care, child care, housing and criminal justice systems in Scotland to the project. In addition, the researchers will engage with employers and the 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.

Co-Investigator from the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, Professor Rosalind Searle said: “It is so important to have independent research that allows those who are called to be witnesses to be asked to give their insights into processes which can deeply affect them, and more significantly unnecessarily, add to their distress. The funding we have been given extends the case reviews I am leading to include service users with cases involving social care professionals regulated through the SSSC. It is a privilege to work on this project adding expertise by retrospective study of a range of these cases to understand what has occurred, and more importantly how these people can be better supported and processes improved.”

First published: 6 May 2022

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