Claire Rooney

Profession: Occupational therapist

Registration Number: OT36612

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 11:30 29/07/2015 End: 13:30 29/07/2015

Location: Health and Care Professions Council, Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4BU

Panel: Health Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

 

Your fitness to practise as an occupational therapist is impaired by reason of your health.

Finding

The hearing was held in private. This is is a public version of the Panel’s decision. Therefore, parts of the decision pertaining to private and/or health matters have been redacted.

Preliminary matters

1. The parties invited the Panel to hear the case in private as the matters related to Ms Rooney’s health. The Panel noted that previous reviews, and indeed the Final Hearing at which the Suspension Order was originally imposed, had been heard in private. The Panel agreed to proceed in private. It would not be possible to hear part of the case in private and part in public as the health issues were central to the matters which the Panel had to consider.

2. Mr Barber invited the Panel to consider splitting the decision-making process by considering, first, the question of whether Ms Rooney’s fitness to practise remained impaired and, only if that were to be decided in the affirmative, to then hear separate representations on sanction. Ms Kavanagh did not object. Having received advice from the Legal Assessor that this was a matter for the Panel’s discretion, the Panel agreed to Mr Barber’s request. Therefore, the Panel proceeded to hear opening submissions from Ms Kavanagh, evidence from Ms Rooney, and then closing submissions only on the issue of current fitness to practise from Ms Kavanagh and then Mr Barber.

Background

3. On 12 October 2011, Ms Rooney was made the subject of a 12 month Suspension Order by a Panel of the Health Committee. She did not attend that hearing and was not represented.

4. The circumstances which gave rise to the Panel’s findings arose when Ms Rooney was employed as an Occupational Therapist at the Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool.

Evidence considered by the Panel on 6 July 2015

5. Ms Rooney gave evidence under oath and was questioned by Ms Kavanagh and by the Panel. The Panel was impressed by her ability to articulate her health problems and to explain how she had developed coping strategies. It was clear that her level of insight into her condition remained good. The Panel was left in no doubt as to her commitment to her profession and her desire to return to practise.

6. In her written and oral evidence, Ms Rooney made reference to two articles she had written for specialist journals in November 2014 and which were published in March and April 2015. The articles dealt with returning to practise and her recovery journey. The Panel was concerned that the articles conveyed the impression that she had voluntarily withdrawn herself from practice because of her health problems, whereas in fact she had been prohibited from practising by her professional regulator. Ms Rooney explained to the Panel that she had meant to give encouragement to colleagues who might be experiencing similar difficulties. In writing the articles, she had intended to draw a distinction between leaving her job (which she did do voluntarily, albeit in the light of possible disciplinary action) and leaving the profession. She accepted that she should have made the distinction clearer in her articles. Whilst the Panel accepted the explanation given by Ms Rooney, and was satisfied that she had not sought to deceive anyone about her situation, the Panel would urge her to exercise more caution in the future to ensure that any messages she shares with her profession and with the public are clear and unambiguous.

7. Ms Rooney told the Panel that she had undertaken various activities to update her professional skills. She had completed and passed two modules of study with the Open University on Facilitating Learning in Diverse Environments, and Peer Support Working. She spent several days of clinical observation within the Acute Services and Spinal Injuries Therapy Team at Southport District General Hospital on an honorary contract, where she was able to work in areas including medicine and surgery, orthopaedics and stroke.

8. Following her period of unpaid work, Ms Rooney was interviewed in May 2015 for a bank band 4 post within the same team at Southport District Hospital as a Therapy Assistant. The Clinical Therapy Manager, who interviewed her, said that she interviewed extremely well, “way beyond the level of a band 4 therapy assistant”. She was successful in her application and started work in June 2015. She has worked mostly full-time since then. The Panel was provided with very positive reports of her performance and progress from the Clinical Therapy Manager and from a Ward Manager. It is clear that Ms Rooney has made a very positive contribution and has earned the respect of her professional colleagues.

Decision

9. In reaching its decision on current impairment, the Panel took into consideration the evidence referred to above, the submissions by Ms Kavanagh and Mr Barber, and the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel bore in mind the guidance contained in the HCPC’s Practice Note, “Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired”. In particular, the Panel reminded itself that the guidance, based on relevant case law, identifies a range of issues which should be considered and which, in essence, comprise two components: the ‘personal’ component (the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant); and the ‘public’ component (the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession).

10. With regard to the personal component, the Panel considered that Ms Rooney has successfully maintained and updated her professional skills and knowledge despite her health problems. This is greatly to her credit and reflects her commitment to her profession. However, the Panel notes that she has only recently returned to the working environment and that she has not yet been in a position to assume the full range of tasks and responsibilities commensurate with practice as an Occupational Therapist. The Panel has identified a small, but not insignificant, risk that the added pressures of a return to unrestricted practice could have a negative impact on Ms Rooney’s health. Therefore the Panel has concluded that Ms Rooney’s fitness to practise does remain impaired on the basis of the personal component.

11. With regard to the public component, the Panel again is drawn to the short period of time which has elapsed since Ms Rooney returned to work, when set against the period of more than four years when she was unable to work. The Panel is of the view that the public, and the occupational therapy profession, would not expect a practitioner to return to unrestricted practice at this stage. Public confidence could be adversely affected if the professional regulator failed to put in place measures to support Ms Rooney’s return to safe and effective practice. It follows that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in these circumstances. Therefore the Panel has concluded that Ms Rooney’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, to the extent set out above, on the basis of both the personal and the public components.

12. The Panel heard submissions on what, if any, sanction it is necessary to impose in this case in the light of its findings on impairment.

13. On behalf of the HCPC Ms Kavanagh submitted that a sanction was necessary in Ms Rooney’s interest and in the public interest. She submitted that a Caution Order was not an appropriate outcome in this case because a Caution Order lacks any mechanism for a review. Ms Kavanagh contended that a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of between nine and twelve months would enable the HCPC to monitor Ms Rooney’s health and her progress in returning to work in her registered profession. Ms Kavanagh submitted that a Suspension Order and a Striking Off Order, although available to the Panel as a sanction, would be disproportionate having regard to the evidence in this case.

14. On behalf of Ms Rooney, Mr Barber reminded the Panel of the considerable progress Ms Rooney has made in overcoming her health problems and in updating her professional knowledge and skills. He urged the Panel to give serious consideration to ending the Suspension Order and permitting Ms Rooney to return to practise as an Occupational Therapist. Mr Barber submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order was an appropriate sanction in all the circumstances of this case.

15. Before reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel considered the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

16. The Panel reminded itself that the primary purpose of any sanction is to address public safety from the perspective of the risk which the registrant may pose to those who use or who may need her services. In reaching its decision the Panel has given appropriate weight to the wider public interest and has sought to balance the interests of the public with those of Ms Rooney.

17. The Panel is satisfied that it is necessary to impose a sanction in this case.

18. The Panel does not consider that a Caution Order is appropriate in this case since there is an ongoing issue in respect of Ms Rooney’s health and her fitness to practise. The Panel considers that the availability of a review process is an important consideration since such a process would allow Ms Rooney’s fitness to Practice and her progress on her return to work as an Occupational Therapist to be monitored. A Caution Order would provide insufficient support to Ms Rooney and inadequate safeguards to members of the public and the wider public interest.

19. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel has concluded that Ms Rooney’s health condition is capable of being remedied. The Panel is satisfied that it is possible to formulate and monitor Conditions of Practice that will deal appropriately with the level of risk that it has identified. Ms Rooney has fully engaged with the regulatory process. She currently has a supportive employer and a positive working environment. Having heard evidence from Ms Rooney and considered the material before it, this Panel has every reason to believe that Ms Rooney is motivated to comply with an Order placing conditions on her registration.

20. The Panel considers that Ms Rooney is capable of making an effective contribution to the practice of Occupational Therapy. It is in the public interest that she is provided with an opportunity to return to practise with appropriate safeguards in place. 

21. The Panel has concluded that a Suspension Order would not be proportionate given the very significant progress Ms Rooney has made to maintain her skills, address her health issues and comply with the requirements and suggestions of previous reviewing Panels.

22. Accordingly, this Panel has concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of twelve months is the appropriate outcome in this case. A twelve month period provides Ms Rooney with the opportunity to re-establish herself in practice and to demonstrate that she is able to maintain her health whilst working in a clinical environment as an Occupational Therapist.

Order

Order: (1) The Registrar is directed to replace the existing Suspension Order with the following Order of Conditions with immediate effect; (2) The Registrar is directed to annotate the register to show that for a period of twelve months you, Miss Claire Rooney, must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a Workplace Supervisor registered by the HCPC and supply details of your Supervisor to the HCPC within 14 days of your appointment as an Occupational Therapist. You must attend upon that Supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations. If your Workplace Supervisor changes during the currency of this Order you must notify the HCPC of your new Workplace Supervisor within 14 days.

2. You must provide a report from your Supervisor to the HCPC at least 14 days before any review hearing. The report should comment on:

- the standard of your practice;
- any periods of sickness absence;
- your reliability,
- whether your physical or mental health is impacting on your ability to work consistently to the required standards.

3. You must restrict your practice to the work of a Band 5 Occupational Therapist.

4. You must remain under the care of your General Practitioner and inform him or her that you are subject to these conditions.

5. You must authorise your General Practitioner to provide the HCPC with information about your health and any treatment that you are receiving.

6. Redacted.

7. Redacted.

8. Redacted.

9. Redacted.

10. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed by your current employer or take up any further employment.

11. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

12. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;
B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and
C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry.

Notes

The Order will be reviewed on/around 29 July 2016.

This was a reconvened Substantive Review Hearing that took place at the HCPC on the 29 July 2015.

 

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Claire Rooney

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
29/07/2015 Health Committee Review Hearing Conditions of Practice