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Professional Conduct Committee

Overview

A Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) is an investigatory body appointed by the Medical Council pursuant to section 71 of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCAA). A PCC’s purpose is to investigate matters and concerns referred to it by the Medical Council about a registered doctor. Although a PCC is appointed by the Medical Council, it is separate from the Medical Council, and has statutory authority to regulate its own procedures.[1]

The appointment of a PCC may result from a complaint or information received directly by the Medical Council,[2] a referral from the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC),[3] or a notification of conviction from a court.[4]

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Membership

Pursuant to section 71 of the HPCAA, PCCs must consist of two doctor members and one lay member. One of the three PCC members is appointed as the convenor of the PCC. The convenor facilitates meetings and interviews, and ensures that the PCC’s processes are fair and conducted in a timely manner.

Whenever possible, the Medical Council will appoint a PCC member who is in the same scope of practice as the doctor the subject of the PCC’s investigation. Prior to the commencement of the investigation, the doctor the subject of the investigation may request a change of PCC composition. The complainant (if there is one) also has this right.

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Procedural matters

As noted above, a PCC may regulate its own procedures.[5] This is subject to the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness.

PCC investigations will often involve sensitive and private matters. PCCs will take great care to ensure the confidentiality and privacy of everyone involved. In most cases, a PCC can only provide updates to those specifically listed at section 72 of the HPCAA, that is, the doctor the subject of the investigation, the complainant(s) (if any), and the Medical Council.

Whether a person is considered a ‘complainant’ will vary from case to case. This will often depend on whether the Medical Council has received an official complaint from that person.

Near the end of its investigation, the PCC must allow the doctor the subject of the investigation and any complainant the opportunity to make written submissions and be heard on the matter under investigation.[6]

A PCC will generally appoint a legal advisor to assist it in its investigation, in order to advise it on matters of law, procedure and evidence. The legal adviser cannot be present at or participate in any deliberation of the PCC.

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Receiving information

A PCC may receive any statement, document, information, or matter that, in its opinion, may assist it to deal effectively with the subject of its investigation, whether or not that statement, document, information, or matter would be admissible in a court of law.[7]

A PCC may also require any person to produce specific information should certain conditions be met.[8]

A PCC may also hear oral evidence and receive written statements and submissions from people involved in the matter under investigation. There is, however, no obligation on anyone to meet with a PCC. Any person who meets with a PCC may bring along with them a support person, and this is especially encouraged if the matter under investigation involves issues such as sexual impropriety.

The Meeting with a Professional Conduct Committee information sheet provides further information.

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PCC recommendations and determinations

At the end of its investigation, a PCC must make recommendation(s) and/or determination(s) in accordance with section 80 of the HPCAA. Any recommendations a PCC makes will be considered by the Medical Council, however determinations made by a PCC cannot be reviewed or considered by the Medical Council.

Recommendations available to a PCC are that the Medical Council:[9]

  • review the competence of the doctor to practise medicine;
  • review the fitness of the doctor to practise medicine;
  • review the doctor’s scope of practice;
  • refer the subject matter of the investigation to the Police; and/or
  • counsel the doctor.

Determinations available to a PCC are that:[10]

  • no further steps be taken in relation in relation to the subject matter of the investigation;
  • a charge be brought against the doctor before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal; and/or
  • the complaint be subject to conciliation.

A PCC must give written notice of the recommendation(s) and/or determination(s) to the Medical Council, the doctor the subject of the investigation, and any complainant.[11]

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Timeframes

A PCC aims to complete any investigation within 8 to 12 months from the date that the PCC is established. However, the timeframe will depend on the complexity of the PCC investigation and may be delayed by processes outside of the PCC’s control. A PCC will endeavour to complete its investigation as quickly as possible for all parties involved.

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Further information

Download A Guide for Complainants: What to expect if your complaint is referred to a Professional Conduct Committee (15 May 2018, PDF)

Download A Guide for Doctors: What to expect if you are referred to a Professional Conduct Committee (15 May 2018, PDF)

Please see Cole’s Medical Practice in New Zealand for further information.

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References

[1] HPCAA, s72.

[2] HPCAA, s64. Note that if the Medical Council receives a complaint alleging that a medical practitioner’s practice or conduct has affected a health consumer, then it must refer the matter to the HDC.

[3] HPCAA, s65.

[4] HPCAA, s67.

[5] HPCAA, s72.

[6] HPCAA, s80(4).

[7] HPCAA, s76.

[8] HPCAA, s77.

[9] HPCAA, s80(2).

[10] HPCAA, s80(3).

[11] HPCAA, s81.

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