Facing Investigation or Disciplinary Action
An investigation should aim to establish the facts or truth of what has occurred and does not necessarily proceed to any disciplinary action against anyone. Disciplinary hearings occur when it is considered that someone (or more than one person) has a case to answer of not meeting expected standards following an investigation. In other words you have to account for your words, actions or omissions. Not all investigations result in disciplinary hearings and not all disciplinary hearings result in disciplinary sanctions (formal warnings, some form of action plan, dismissal, NMC referral).
If you are on the end of a complaint or criticism from the patient, your employer and or are bullied or shunned by colleagues, you may be very upset; you could be very stressed out, tired or run down. Your first instinct may be to resign in the belief that if you resign the whole business will go away.
That would be a mistake; it could result in you throwing away your career unnecessarily. See the section on Practicalities No. 5 below. You should not resign before you have had a chance to catch your breath and to talk your circumstances through with someone who is experienced in understanding the processes involved in investigations and disciplinary procedures.
If you are suspended, that is NOT a disciplinary sanction. Again, consciously managing your time away from work to stay as well as you can will be important. Pay attention to what your friends and family advise – they will have your best interests at heart and their perspective can be very wise.
In addition to your trusted friends and family, Midwives Haven supporters are here to talk things over and help you deal with the pressures and strains on you.
If you find you are not entitled to union representation (and the unions do check on your membership status), do not panic – there are others who can accompany you to meetings, or, in confidence, give you informal advice on how to handle the disciplinary process, discuss the background and surrounding incidents, and help you prepare your statement. Midwives Haven have volunteers who are prepared to do this, though people also ask for the support of their partners, family members, next-door-neighbour-retired-solicitor etc.
The important thing is that you are represented by someone with experience or commitment who will see it through with you and be there for you. In our members’ experience, being represented by someone other than a union official can be a positive experience with positive outcomes.
2Understanding the process
3Writing a statement
The aim of an investigation should be to establish the facts and get to the truth of whatever complaint, incident or event is being investigated. The statement that you submit must be written carefully and truthfully, and stick to facts and known truths. If you don’t know something, don’t make up an answer, no matter how tempting – just say honestly that you don’t know.
If you are involved in a complaint or incident and you know that something has gone amiss, you need to make your own record of what happened as soon as possible: times, people, what was said, your thinking, and actions taken by you and others as soon as possible after the event. Stick truthfully to what YOU saw, heard, understood, and did.
Always ask your representative and at least one other objective and experienced person to read and comment on your statement. This should help identify omissions and any areas that are unclear and that need further work. Midwives Haven members are very happy, in total confidence, to read and comment on drafts.
Guidelines for statement-writing
There are some very good guidelines on the internet: below are those from the RCM, the RCN and UNISON.
RCM Statement Writing Guidance
RCN | Advice Guides
Unison Factsheet How to write a statement
4Making sure you can access the information you need
You need to ask for access to key records (even if you have been suspended).
If you have resigned, it can be really difficult to access important records because your former employer will almost always use the excuse that you can’t have them because of data protection rules which cover patient information and information relating to your work colleagues.
If you need to access patient records (as is nearly always the case), then your representative needs to arrange this for you. You/the representative should write formally to your employer at an early stage to ask them to give you access to and where permitted, copies of any documents you require to write a statement or to submit in evidence to any disciplinary hearing. You should be able to peruse the records as long as you reasonably want and to make notes.
If you are told you cannot have access to see the full notes because of patient confidentiality you need to write in immediately to record that you have been denied access to the relevant records.
You should also be able to access your own personnel file and your appraisals records to ascertain what your prior training and disciplinary records are; and they can reveal whether your employer has offered you adequate support in the past. Your annual appraisal records often contain important evidence of updating, your competence, attitudes and performance. It is hard for an employer to find you “incompetent” or in need of “development” if the previous 5-years worth of appraisals carried out on behalf of that same employer attests to your diligence, competence, professional development, ability to work in a team etc., etc.
If you are suspended from work or have resigned, it can be difficult to access important emails. If you identify documents or other data that you think is part of the picture and especially if it is pertinent to your defence at a disciplinary or NMC hearing, then, if they are not volunteered, you may have to acquire them using one of the two formal requests described below.
Think carefully before doing so. Consider the alternatives including seeking medical advice as to your fitness to continue in the workplace, reducing your hours, changing departments, going on a course or whatever. Leaving a post, however tempting and desirable, before or in the middle of an investigation, disciplinary, or action plan can result in your employer referring you to the NMC. We know of many instances where this has happened and your employer may use your resignation against you. You also will not be able to check on the integrity of the investigation or disciplinary process and the short-term gain of resignation then results in the longer-term pain of dealing with the NMC.