Esther L Thomas
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1. The Registrant was not present and was represented by Mr Patrick Llewelyn instructed by Messrs Thompsons. Mr LLewelyn advised that the Registrant admitted the conviction and denied that her fitness to practise is impaired by that conviction. The case for the Health and Care Professions Council (the “HCPC”) was presented by Ms Cedi Dewi Counsel, instructed by Kingsley Napley, Solicitors.
2. The Registrant was employment as a paramedic. On 19 December 2013 the HCPC received notification that the Registrant had been arrested after being identified on CCTV for alleged theft of a purse, The Registrant was, at the relevant time, attending a private Christmas function for paramedic staff. There was a separate Christmas party within the same bar, a member of that function noticed that her purse was missing at around 20.30 hours.
3. On CCTV from the bar, the Registrant could be seen dancing near to the complainant, coming over to her, speaking to a male friend and then moving away again. The Registrant could then be seen to approach the bar, near to the complainant’s handbag, placing her hand in the bag, removing an item and then walking away at approximately 1935 hours, placing the item down the front of her skirt.
4. The Registrant was subsequently charged and pleaded guilty to one count of theft on 6 March 2014 at Swansea Magistrates Court. The Registrant was fined £320, ordered to pay compensation of £50 and a victim surcharge of £32.
5. The Panel also considered Mr Llewelyn’s application to hear evidence relating to the Registrant’s health in private. Ms Dewi did not oppose the application. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered the Practice Note on Conducting Hearings in Private. The Panel concluded that the right of the Registrant to protection of her private life and confidentiality of her health issues outweighed the general presumption of hearings being conducted in public. The Panel therefore agreed that any evidence relating to the Registrant’s health would be taken in private.
Decision on Facts and Grounds:
6. The Panel heard submissions from Mr Llewelyn on behalf of the Registrant who advised that the Registrant accepted the conviction. The Panel considered all of the submissions by Mr Llewelyn and Ms Dewi. The Panel had sight of the certificate of conviction and accepted this as proof of the conviction and of the findings of fact upon which it was based in terms of rule 10(1)(d) of the Conduct and Competence Procedure Rules. In addition the Registrant has admitted the conviction. The Panel is therefore satisfied that the facts and grounds have been proved.
Decision on Impairment:
7. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired by this conviction.
8. The Panel is aware that this is a matter for its own professional judgement. In reaching its decision, the Panel has had regard both to the conduct of the Registrant and the critically important public policy issues, in particular the need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour which the public expect.
9. The Panel has first considered the personal component of the Registrant’s conduct. The Panel has heard information about the Registrant’s personal circumstances and the circumstances surrounding the events which led to her conviction.
10. The Panel is also of the view that there is limited insight into her behaviour and there is therefore a risk of repetition. The Panel has not seen any evidence of remorse for the adverse impact of her actions on the victim. The Registrant has expressed remorse to the HCPC and the ambulance service, but has not made any representations about the effect her actions could have had on public confidence or the maintenance of proper standards. The Panel is not therefore satisfied that the personal component of the Registrant’s actions has been fully addressed.
11. The Panel has also considered the critically important public policy issues and the nature and gravity of the offence. The Registrant has been convicted of an offence of dishonesty. The Registrant’s actions clearly bring the profession into disrepute and undermine public confidence in the profession. As a paramedic, the Registrant is in a position of trust and power and her actions have clearly undermined that trust. The Panel has concluded that given the nature and circumstances of the Registrant’s actions, she has clearly breached standards 3 and 13 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics :- you must keep high standards of personal conduct and you must behave with integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession. In order to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process and to uphold proper standards of conduct, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The allegation is therefore well founded.
Decision on Sanction:
12. The Panel has heard submissions from Ms Dewi and from Mr Llewelyn on behalf of the Registrant. The Panel has also considered the advice of the legal assessor and had regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.
13. The Panel is aware that the purpose of sanction is not to be punitive and that it must consider the risk the Registrant may pose to those using or needing her services in the future and determine what degree of public protection is required. The Panel must also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest which includes the deterrent effect on other Registrants, the reputation of the profession and public confidence in the regulatory process.
14. The Panel has considered the mitigating factors:- this was a single incident, the Registrant had longstanding health issues and challenging personal circumstances, she pled guilty at the first opportunity and the offence was at the lower end of the scale of offences of dishonesty. However the Panel does not find that there is a causal link between the Registrant’s health issues and her conviction.
15. The Panel has considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity. The Panel considered that to take no action or to impose a caution would not be appropriate given the nature of the conviction. The Panel has also considered that a conditions of practice order would not be appropriate given the nature of the conviction.
16. The Panel next considered a suspension order. Whilst this would prevent repetition whilst it was inforce, the Panel has concluded that in the circumstances where a Registrant has acted in such a reckless manner and has been convicted of an offence of dishonesty, it would not be sufficient to address the wider public interest considerations. The Panel is of the view that suspension would not be sufficient to maintain public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process.
17. The Panel next considered a striking off order. The Panel is aware that this is the sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as dishonesty. The Panel is of the view that in the circumstances of this case where a health professional who is in a position of trust and deals with vulnerable patients, acts in such a reckless manner, any lesser sanction would undermine confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Panel has therefore concluded that despite the mitigation, the Registrant’s conduct is incompatible with ongoing registration and that a striking off order would be the proportionate and appropriate sanction.
That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Esther L Thomas from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.
The order imposed today will apply from 19 February 2016.
History of Hearings for Esther L Thomas
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|22/01/2016||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Struck off|