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Fitness to Practise – Warnings and their effect

We deal with the status of advice in our previous briefings in this series. Warnings are a step up the ladder in terms of the seriousness of response from a regulator.

Warnings are most commonly issued when the relevant decision-maker determines that the test for referral to a full hearing is not met because the Registrant:

  • has demonstrated insight and has taken steps to remediate an admitted failing; or
  • the matters referred to in the complaint are seen as a one-off event and not regarded as sufficiently serious to merit referral, but where any repetition would be regarded as serious.

By issuing a warning the decision-maker marks the seriousness of the concerns. This serves to maintain public confidence in the regulator and to uphold proper standards of behaviour for the profession. It also means that the Registrant cannot plead ignorance of the rules if their behaviour is found wanting in respect of the same issues in the future. Any future failings will be judged in light of the warning issued and, even if the alleged failings which led to the warning had been disputed, the regulator will approach the matter on the basis that the Registrant ought to have been especially alert to the importance of the particular obligation to which the warning related.

Depending on the regulator, warnings may be published or unpublished. For example, when issuing a warning the Case Examiners at the GDC must decide whether the warning ought to published and, if so, for how long. By contrast, warnings issued by the Case Examiners at the GMC are always published for two years, not by virtue of any decision of the Case Examiners but as a matter of policy.

As a matter of law, warnings do not limit a Registrant’s freedom to practise; they are not a restriction. However, the practical reality for many Registrants is that warnings can have a range of adverse impacts including affecting their access to indemnity cover and practising privileges in the private sector. Warnings constitute an adverse fitness to practise history and so will need to be disclosed in a variety of settings even after they have ceased to be published the Regulator.


This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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