Mr Antony G Rice
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By reason of your physical and/or mental health, your fitness to practise as a Paramedic is
Remote hearing conducted via video conference
1. On or around 23 March 2020 and acting in accordance with Government recommendations concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, the HCPC decided to suspend all physical, ‘in-person’ hearings to protect the health and safety of its registrants and stakeholders. This hearing was conducted by video conference.
2. The HCPC also decided that during the period of suspension of its physical hearings, there would be a new process whereby Notice of Hearings would be sent to the parties by email. The Registrant was sent a Notice of Hearing by email on 27 July 2020 to his email address as held on the Register. The HCPC received an email delivery receipt, confirming that the email containing the Notice had been delivered to that address.
3. The Panel was satisfied that the date of the Notice of Hearing fell within the statutory time limit of 28 days under Rule 6(2) of the HCPC Health Committee (Procedure) Rules 2003, (the Rules); and in accordance with Rule 6(1), the Notice provided the dates and times of the hearing and the fact that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearing would be held remotely via video conference. The Panel acknowledged that in normal times the Notice of Hearing would be sent by post in accordance with Rule 3(1). However, in circumstances where, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, members of the HCPTS Scheduling Team are working remotely, the Panel found that communication by an email sent to the Registrant’s registered email address was both a proper and sufficient means of communication. For these reasons the Panel found that there was good service of the Notice of Hearing.
Proceeding in absence
4. The Registrant did not participate in the hearing. He responded by email on 4 August 2020 to the Notice of hearing stating, “No thank you I don’t wish to attend the hearing in this climate presently but thank you for asking me.”
5. Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC, submitted that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself. He noted that the Registrant had not requested an adjournment of this hearing and that there was nothing before the Panel to suggest that the Registrant was unable to participate due to ill health. Mr Foxsmith submitted that the Registrant had waived his right to attend and that it was in the public interest to proceed today in his absence.
6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel referred to the HCPTS Practice Note on proceeding in absence and to the guidance that a hearing panel should consider as provided by the cases of R v Jones (Anthony)  1 AC 1HL and GMC v Adeogba  EWCA Civ 162. Applying that guidance, the Panel was careful to remember that its discretion to proceed in absence is not unfettered and must be exercised with the utmost caution and with the fairness of the hearing at the forefront of its mind.
7. The Notice of Hearing dated 27 July 2020 informed the Registrant of the dates and details of the Health Committee hearing, and of his right to attend and be represented. He was also advised of the Panel’s power to proceed with the hearing in his absence if he did not attend and of how he could apply for a postponement of the hearing. The Registrant was informed of the sanction powers available to the Panel, should it find his fitness to practise to be currently impaired.
8. The Registrant had responded to the Notice of Hearing and clearly indicated that he did not wish to attend this hearing. No request for an adjournment had been received, nor was there any indication that the Registrant wished to participate in the hearing but was unable to do so.
9. Taking all the above circumstances into account, the Panel concluded that it was unlikely in all the circumstances that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance on a future date. The Panel concluded that, in the absence of any explanation from the Registrant as to why he was not present and to his lack of engagement, the Registrant has voluntarily waived his right to be present at today’s hearing and that adjourning this hearing would serve no useful purpose.
10. The Panel was mindful that it must also consider fairness to the HCPC, whose case was ready to proceed today. The HCPC’s two witnesses were ready to give evidence at this virtual hearing. Following the guidance in the case of Adeogba, given that there was no good reason to adjourn the hearing, the Panel decided it was in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
11. The Panel considered that there was some disadvantage to the Registrant in proceeding in his absence as he would not be able to challenge the evidence put forward by the HCPC or give his own evidence. The Panel was mindful, though, that it could explore any inconsistencies in the evidence that it identified and should ask questions and consider points which might be in the Registrant’s interests and were reasonably apparent from the evidence. Furthermore, the limited disadvantage was the consequence of the Registrant’s decision to absent himself from the hearing, waive his rights to attend and be represented and to not provide evidence or make submissions.
12. In these circumstances, the Panel decided that it was fair, appropriate and proportionate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
Private Hearing Application
Application to Amend the Allegation
13. The Panel was provided with an HCPC bundle of documents, comprising a case summary, witness statements and exhibits. The exhibits included eight Occupational Health Consultation Reports dated between January 2016 and January 2018; various documents relating to the workplace investigations at the Trust; and text correspondence and telephone records of communications between the Registrant and colleagues at the Trust.
The Registrar is directed to suspend the name of Mr Antony G Rice for a period of 12 months from the date that this Order takes effect (the Operative Date).
Determination on Interim Order
1. The Panel heard an application from Mr Foxsmith to cover the appeal period by imposing an 18-month Interim Suspension Order on the Registrant’s registration. He submitted that such an order is necessary to protect the public.
2. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It had careful regard to Paragraphs 133-135 of the Sanctions Policy and to Paragraph 7 of the HCPTS Practice Note on Interim Orders, which offers guidance on interim orders imposed at final hearings after a sanction has been imposed. The guidance states that registrants should be made aware of the potential for an interim order to be imposed on their registration after the panel has made a substantive order and should be given an opportunity to make representations in respect of an interim order.
3. The Panel noted that the Registrant had been informed by the Notice of Hearing email dated 27 July 2020 that if this Panel found proved the allegation against him and imposed a conditions of practice order or a suspension order, the HCPC may make an application to the Panel to impose an interim order to cover any appeal period. For the reasons set out in its earlier decision to commence the hearing in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel determined that it would also be fair, proportionate and in the interests of justice to consider Mr Foxsmith’s application.
4. The Panel recognised that its power to impose an interim order is discretionary and that the imposition of such an order is not an automatic outcome of fitness to practise proceedings in which a Suspension Order has been imposed, and that the Panel must take into consideration the impact of such an order on the Registrant. The Panel was, however, mindful of its findings in relation to the ongoing health conditions in this case and to the risk of relapse.
5. The Panel decided to impose an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health Professions Order 2001. The Panel was satisfied that an interim suspension order is necessary for the protection of the public and is otherwise in the public interest to maintain confidence in this regulatory process. The Panel has had regard to the nature and severity of the health conditions it has found proved and the resulting public protection concerns, and the full reasons set out in its decision for the substantive order in reaching the decision to impose an interim order. In the circumstances, it also considered that public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be seriously undermined were the Registrant allowed to remain in practice as a Paramedic during the appeal period.
6. The period of this order is for 18 months to allow for the possibility of an appeal to be made and determined.
7. If no appeal is made, then the interim order will be replaced by the Suspension Order 28 days after the Registrant is sent the decision of this hearing in writing.
8. That concludes this determination.
History of Hearings for Mr Antony G Rice
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|26/11/2020||Health Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|