Dentistry: structured event reporting form (SERF) guidelines
These guidelines are for the dentistry structured event reporting forms (SERF). The SERF is for reporting safeguarding issues, professionalism alerts and positive incidents.
Our dentistry students are expected to behave professionally and responsibly. They must complete the duties and requirements associated with their studies. They should do so in a manner that supports their own wellbeing and health as well as their peers.
Throughout the School's programmes, students have contact with a wide range of staff, peers, patients and members of the public. All these groups, as well as our students, must be safeguarded. This represents a challenge when any difficult issues appear. Especially when it comes to communicating information in a secure, appropriate manner.
The system of reporting incidents or events is confidential and efficient. It seeks to safeguard individual students, the student body as a whole, the School and our service users and patients.
We have created the Structured Event Reporting Form (SERF) as part of this system. It's intended to capture and communicate information from an incident or event, of which there are three types:
- Safeguarding and welfare
- Positive incidents
The SERF is used to communicate information for all three of these types of event. There are three boxes which allow the event to be categorised appropriately based on the categories above.
Safeguarding and welfare issues, and professionalism alerts are identified as being Level 1, 2 or 3. The level indicates the urgency with which the issue should be dealt, and to whom the information is directed.
Positive incidents occur when a student demonstrates exemplary conduct. This means they go above and beyond typical expectations. There is no level attached to these.
A SERF should be completed in any situation where a clinical incident form is filled out. This applies specifically within a clinical environment involving dentistry students.
Further details of the different types of event and the levels of incident are given below.
Types of event
Impact is limited to students or reporter involved in the incident. This will include positive feedback. The incident is unlikely to have any long-term impact on the student’s progress. No Fitness to Practice (FtP) issues raised.
Impact may involve other peers, patients or staff. There may be long term ramifications related to this incident. There is no imminent or actual risk of harm to the students, peers or patients. Issues of FtP may be raised, but not clearly the need for FtP procedures to begin. The incident is unlikely to have any long-term impact on the student’s progress.
Impact may involve other peers, patients or staff. There may be long term ramifications related to this incident. There is imminent or actual risk of harm to the students, peers or patients. Issues of FtP may be raised, and a case of FtP may be considered. The incident may have a long-term impact on the student’s progress. It could have the potential to bring the School, the health partners and/or the profession into disrepute.
A SERF should be completed in any situation where an unexpected, inappropriate or exceptional event occurs. It should also be completed in situations when such events were prevented (near misses).
Safeguarding and welfare situations can include:
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Safeguarding and welfare situations
|Patient safety incident
|Student welfare or wellbeing
|Academic issues that could impact patient safety or the student’s wellbeing and ability to progress
|Significant activities that could bring the profession or institution into disrepute
|Disclosure of sensitive information
|Plagiarism or any form of cheating
Reporting of professionalism events is intended to maintain a minimum standard of conduct. For this reason, a ‘scale’ of severity has been devised. This is linked to the professionalism element of the Medical Skills and Quality Care (MSQC) theme.
At Level 1 and 2, an incident will generate a professionalism ‘alert’. The student will get a verbal alert with the reasons behind its issuing. Once a professionalism alert has been issued, a SERF showing the appropriate level is completed. The student will then be invited to a meeting in line with SERF reporting guidance. Only staff employed by UCLan may issue professionalism alerts. This includes internal, honorary staff or accredited Clinical Educators. These staff must have received appropriate training.
Examples of situations that would trigger a professionalism alert at Levels 1 and 2 include:
- Untidy appearance or inappropriate attire not in line with the dress code
- Unpunctuality or non-compliance with clinical practice time keeping. For example failing to return from break at agreed time
- Poor personal hygiene
- Failure to show normal courtesy
- Minor breaches of infection control
- Prior unapproved but notified absence
- Inattention/lack of interest
- Un-notified absence
- Unwillingness to accept advice/criticism
- Improper decorum in the teaching environment
- Not recognising personal limitations or being unprepared for a clinical procedure.
- Failure to arrange appropriate appointments for continuing care of patients
- Non-premeditated breaches of patient confidentiality
- Non-premeditated breaches of health and safety
- Significant breaches of infection control
- Failures in record keeping
- Unprofessional behaviour to colleagues, patients or staff
This system is intended to reflect current behaviour and is not cumulative. This means all professionalism alerts at Levels 1 and 2 expire after 15 weeks or at the end of the academic year. The agreed actions will be recorded on the SERF outcome form and will remain in the student's eportfolio.
If a student receives three Level 1 professionalism alerts in one term, it will trigger a Level 2 alert automatically.
If a student gets more than two Level 2 alerts in one academic year, they automatically fail the professionalism module for that year. They must retake it for remediation. To retake this part of the module, students must write a personal reflective essay on professionalism. They will also need to show behaviour improvement as identified in their academic advisor reviews.
Two professionalism alerts at Level 2 will also lead to the Head of School of Medicine and Dentistry being contacted. They will consider if an upgrade to Fitness to Practice procedures is needed. If this were to be the case, a professionalism alert at Level 3 would be issued.
Level 3 professionalism alerts often involve advanced disciplinary or Fitness to Practice procedures.
Examples of Level 3 professionalism incidents include:
- Cheating, plagiarism or assault. These would be recorded as Level 3 on the SERF and would lead to disciplinary procedures.
- Failure to disclose a relevant medical history would constitute a Level 3 on the SERF. This would lead to the Fitness to Practice process.
- Being drunk at a placement would lead to both disciplinary and fitness to practice.
Complete a SERF for positive incidents where an unexpected or exceptional positive event occurs.
- Unsolicited positive feedback from patients and users about a student’s work
- Learning or practice that was above and beyond what may be expected from a student
- Contribution in a positive way to wider school, university and community life
- Events or acts that reflect positively on the school or university to the wider public
- Demonstration of leadership and management that is above what would be expected from students at that level of training
Completing a SERF
It is important for both staff and students to appreciate that the SERF is an information notification system. A SERF is not held formally anywhere outside the secure SERF database. The SERF is only the vehicle by which information is securely gathered, triaged, and directed to appropriate person(s).
As such, any situation when a SERF is completed and submitted will be followed up with another process. This may be academic, such as lodging positive feedback in portfolio. It could be safeguarding focussed, such as student welfare needing pastoral or health input. Or it may relate to professionalism, leading to disciplinary note of the professionalism alert.
A SERF can be completed by anyone involved with dentistry students in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. This includes:
- UCLan Dental staff
- Any other UCLan staff
- Staff within clinical placements – UCLan trained
- Staff within clinical placements – non-UCLan trained
- Students on dentistry courses at UCLan
- Public or patients
Students can fill out SERFs for staff, learning experiences, or any incidents they think should be reported. They will be encouraged to do so to support future error reporting behaviour in healthcare. More information about this is in the frequently asked questions section.
System following submission of SERF
Our main concern is to ensure that patient safety and student welfare are always supported. All SERFs will be triaged by a Designated Officer (DO). The DO will assess if the level assigned is appropriate for the incident, and if necessary, will up or down-grade the level.
At subsequent meetings with the student a SERF outcome will be completed and uploaded into the student’s eportfolio. This identifies actions to be undertaken.
If a positive incident is reported, the SERF is sent to the students Academic Advisor (SCT). They will collate and pass to student for inclusion in their portfolio, usually at the next timetabled meeting with the student.
If someone reports a Level 1 incident, the Academic Advisor will receive the SERF. They will make contact with the student and meet within two weeks of receiving the SERF. At the meeting, the participants make a plan and complete a SERF outcome. This will get uploaded immediately into the student’s portfolio. An email is also sent to the DO to advise that the SERF has been dealt with. A satisfactory conclusion needs to be reached with agreed actions completed. This will be recorded in the next formal meeting between the student and the Academic Advisor.
If the next planned meeting is more than a month away, the student and Academic Advisor might need to have an interim meeting to review progress. Once a satisfactory conclusion has been reached, an email should be sent to the DO.
For a Level 2 incident, the SERF is forwarded to the Academic Advisor (SCT) and Head of Course. A meeting then takes place between academic advisor, Head of Course and the student. This should be within one week of receipt of the SERF. A SERF outcome should be formulated and logged as for a Level 1 incident. An email should be sent to the DO upon satisfactory outcome.
If the student is suspended, UCLan will start its internal procedures right away. After this entry has been submitted, the e-portfolio will be locked. A snapshot will be taken of all entries for use in further FtP procedures. The Compliance Team will be notified right away. If necessary, they will then inform the Home Office about this, as it may affect visa matters.
When a Level 3 incident occurs, the SERF is forwarded to the Academic Advisor (SCT), Head of Course and Head of School. A discussion between the parties must be instigated immediately and take place within 24 hours of their receipt of the SERF. At the meeting an action plan is formulated, and a SERF outcome should be completed. This will be uploaded immediately into the student’s portfolio.
When FtP is initiated, the e-portfolio will be locked after this entry. A snapshot is taken of all entries for use in further procedures. Suspension may occur to allow assessment of FtP issues to be made.
Actions in the event of multiple SERFs being submitted
A secure SERF summary document is held in line with the School’s confidentiality policy. This gives summary data of the number and nature of SERFs for each student and is only accessible by the DO or nominated proxy.
If more than three Level 1 incidents are raised against a student in one term, the DO will automatically inform the Head of Course. An assessment will be made as to whether there is a chronic underlying problem. This may lead to an upgrade to Level 2. This is the case whether these are professionalism alerts or safeguarding incidents. This does not lead to any automatic outcome but escalates information sharing.
If more than two SERFs at Level 2 are raised against a student in one term, the DO will automatically inform the Head of School. An assessment will be made as to whether there is a chronic underlying problem. This may lead to an upgrade to Level 3. This is the case whether these are professionalism alerts or safeguarding incidents. Again, this does not lead to any automatic outcome but escalates information sharing.
It must be understood that this upgrading is not a punishment. The ultimate goal here is to identify if a student’s wellbeing or career is not progressing as needed so that we can provide appropriate support.
Frequently asked questions
If a student has more than three unauthorised absences in one semester, the admin team will complete a SERF indicating Level 1. If a student is absent for more than seven days, but in contact with the admin staff, a SERF indicating Level 2 will be completed.
It must be highlighted again that this is not disciplinary – this is to safeguard students. The university imposes strict attendance requirements. Unauthorised absence could make it impossible for a student to complete that year’s studies. This communication helps the Head of Phase think about what help might be needed for a student to do well in their studies and return successfully.
For students absent with no contact, please see the missing student policies.
The information is once again triaged by the DO.
If a Level 1 issue is reported, the DO will communicate with the relevant staff member immediately to try and remedy the situation. The line manager or relevant staff member at UCLan will be informed.
If this is a Level 2 issue, the DO will communicate with Head of Course immediately. Head of Course will meet with the individual and an action plan will be raised to try and remedy the situation.
Confirmation that the rating is appropriate will be documented. Suspension of teaching duties may be needed and, in this case, disciplinary proceedings may need to be discussed.
If this is a Level 3 issue, the DO will communicate with the Head of School immediately. They will meet with the individual and an action plan will be raised to try and remedy the situation.
Confirmation that the rating is appropriate will be documented. If it's correct, this will lead to suspension whilst investigation is undertaken. Appropriate proceedings are discussed.
If a student reports an issue related to how a course is taught or other course-related matters, the DO will review it. It will then be passed along to the right staff member. The same timescale applies as with other incidents reported through SERF.
A Level 1 incident should lead to an action being formulated within two weeks of receipt of the SERF. A Level 2 incident should lead to an action being formulated within one week of receipt of the SERF. The actions will be fed back to the student who raised the SERF. This will be in writing unless the student requests a face to face meeting.
As with all systems, there may be times when people consider that the process has not led to the correct outcome. In this case, we can consider an appeal.
It's important for students to know that providing feedback about problems and incidents is a part of their learning and growth. The General Dental Council (GDC) guidelines recommend reflecting on these experiences for professional development.
Students have the right to appeal any decision at any time. But if a student is found to have limited self-awareness regarding their practice during this process, it could lead to a professionalism alert or a fitness to practice concern. We therefore suggest having open and honest conversations. Students should seek independent support early if they're thinking of appealing.
Sources of support include the Student’s Union, SASS and the student’s Academic Advisor.
All appeals will be audited annually by the Designated Officer and reported to the Dental Academic Committee. This ensures the consistency and fairness of the process.
As the process is predicated towards easy reporting, it is conceivable that information may be received that is anonymous. Although not considered a problem, there may be situations where the contents are seen as harmful or false. The SERF system lays out process, but not outcome. This means that talking to staff and students will quickly show if this unusual circumstance has occurred. If the outcome of a SERF is that the contents were felt to be false, the SERF will be removed from the student’s record.
It must be noted that filling in a SERF with inaccurate or malicious information is itself a fitness to practice or serious conduct issue. Anyone found to have done so will be subject to appropriate processes.
All submitted SERFs are presented anonymously within the relevant course management meetings. This helps us quickly find and fix issues with educational provision, staff, or facilities.
This also allows audit of the process to take place. The audit checks if timelines are met, if the confidentiality policy is followed, and if the procedures are appropriate.
An annual report will be submitted to the Dental Academic Committee about the process. The reporting process will be covered within induction training for all students and UCLan staff. It will also be covered with staff within placement sessions who are trained to complete work based assessments. And finally all examiners who take part in the School assessment process.