Spotlight on statutory notices

Following GOC plans to send FTP communications by email with consent, OT  explores how other regulators approach the issue

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The General Optical Council (GOC) has announced that from 2024, registrants will be asked as part of the registration and renewal process whether they consent to receiving statutory notices by email.

Statutory notices are issued as part of GOC registration and fitness to practise processes. This includes where a registrant is subject to a GOC fitness to practise matter or interim order proceedings, or if the GOC are seeking to remove a practitioner from the register, are refusing to retain them, or restore them to the register.

The GOC has explained that registrants can still choose to receive statutory notices by letter.

“We want to communicate with our registrants according to their chosen preferences,” a GOC spokesperson shared.

In light of this development, OT approached other healthcare regulators to explore how they deliver statutory notices.

Nursing and Midwifery Council

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is an independent regulator of more than 808,000 nursing and midwifery professionals in the UK.

An NMC spokesperson confirmed that notices for fitness to practise hearings can be sent by both post or email.

“We introduced the email service in Spring 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it then became part of our regular ‘business as usual’,” the spokesperson shared.

The NMC will only send a notice by email if a confirmed email address is held by the regulator – meaning that it is recorded on the register or has been used to communicate with the NMC in the past.

The NMC may also use an email address that the registrant has provided the NMC with in previous correspondence or told the NMC about over the phone following a request for updated contact details.

When a notice of hearing is sent by post, the NMC uses recorded delivery. If a notice is sent by email and the regulator has not received confirmation that the message has been accessed, the NMC will make “reasonable efforts” to contact the nurse, midwife or nursing associate to ensure they are aware of the hearing.

General Medical Council

The General Medical Council (GMC) manages the UK medical register, sets standards for doctors, and oversees medical education and training. The GMC is also responsible for investigating and acting on concerns about doctors.

A spokesperson for the GMC confirmed that whether statutory notices are sent by email depends on the type of statutory notice.

“In some cases, we are required to issue notices via a hard copy to a doctor’s registered address. In other cases, we have the flexibility to service a notice by email, where the doctor has previously requested this,” the spokesperson shared.

The GMC routinely serves the majority of its fitness to practise statutory notices by email to doctors who have previously agreed to receiving notices in this way.

“We will only ever do so to a verified email address. This particular process has been in place for several years but doctors who wish to continue receiving these notices via a hard copy can do so,” the spokesperson shared.

The GMC spokesperson added that the legislation governing the regulator’s work is complex, meaning that the GMC is unable to follow the same approach across all areas.

“Where we can serve a notice via email we do so because this is the doctor’s preference. It is also quicker and more cost-effective,” the spokesperson highlighted.

Health and Care Professions Council

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) regulates 15 different health and care professions in the UK, including dietitians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and radiographers.

A spokesperson for the HCPC confirmed that rules allowing documents and statutory notices to be sent by email were made as part of emergency amendments to legislation in response to COVID-19. This approach then became a permanent change.

After an email service was introduced in the first lockdown, a stakeholder survey found that 88% of respondents were in favour of electronic notices.

The HCPC spokesperson noted that the regulator is happy to comply with the preferences of registrants who would like to receive fitness to practise communications solely by post.

“When registrants log into their account they are given the option to update their communication preferences, which includes consent to have HCPC communications sent to them via email or via post,” the spokesperson explained.

General Dental Council

The General Dental Council (GDC) is responsible for regulating around 114,000 dental professionals in the UK, including dentists, dental nurses and dental hygienists.

A GDC spokesperson shared that, at the present time, the regulator’s legislative framework does not permit statutory notices to be served by email.

Under the Dentists Act, statutory notices may be sent by personal delivery, leaving the notice at a person’s address, or by sending the notice by a registered or recorded postal service.

The spokesperson added that in practice, most notices are sent by Royal Mail special delivery.

This method provides proof of service through online end-to-end tracking and signature on delivery.

The GDC spokesperson noted that while the legal framework means that notices cannot solely be sent by email, the GDC may sent an email in addition to registered post.