Mrs Sonya Wheatley
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During the course of your employment as a Paramedic for Yorkshire Ambulance
1. On 06 April 2015, you:
a. Displayed inappropriate behaviour towards Person A in her mother’s home, in that you asked Person A in an inappropriate tone:
i. “Why did you call emergency services?”, or words to that effect.
ii. “Well are you going to the pharmacy, they will give you a drink or something to sort your mother?”, or words to that effect.
b. Displayed inappropriate behaviour at Harrogate District Hospital, in that you approached Person A and stated:
i. “You reported me, because of you I will be suspended”, or words to that effect.
ii. “I was nothing but professional this morning at your mother’s. I gave you two options. Go to the pharmacy or out of hours”, or words to that effect.
c. Displayed inappropriate behaviour at Harrogate District Hospital in that you guided Person A out of the waiting room, despite Person A’s request to stay with her mother.
2. On 24 September 2015, you attempted to influence the testimony of a witness for your disciplinary hearing.
3. The matters described in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct.
4. By reason of that misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of Service
1. This Panel was aware that written notice of these proceedings was posted by first class post to the Registrant at her registered address on 27 July 2017 and also by email. This Panel was shown documents which established the fact of the service and the identity of the Registrant’s registered address and of her email address. In these circumstances this Panel accepted that proper service of the notice had been effected.
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
2. Ms Owusu-Akyem on behalf of the HCPC submitted that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
3. This Panel has not seen any representations by, or on behalf, of the Registrant and has been informed by Ms Owusu-Akyem that none have been received by the HCPC.
4. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
5. This Panel was aware of the need to consider the application to proceed in the absence of the Registrant with great caution. However after giving the application very careful thought, this Panel has determined to allow it. Its reasons are as follows;
• Notice of this hearing has been properly served on the Registrant.
• The Registrant has not applied for an adjournment or otherwise engaged with the HCPC regarding this review hearing.
• The Registrant did not attend and was not represented at the previous hearing.
• There is no reason to suppose that if an adjournment was granted the Registrant would attend.
• This is a mandatory review and the existing order will expire on 05 October 2017.
• In all the circumstances the Registrant can be regarded as having waived her right to attend.
6. The Registrant was employed as a paramedic at Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) between 29 July 1999 and 21 October 2015. She was responsible for attending on patients as part of the 999 emergency response service.
7. On 6 April 2015, Person A telephoned the NHS “emergency” 111 number for an out of hours doctor, as her elderly and vulnerable mother, Patient A was in pain. At around 09:49, an ambulance crewed by the Registrant and Witness 3, at that time an Emergency Care Assistant, arrived at the home address of Patient A. Person A, the daughter of Patient A was also present. Witness 3 conducted observations on Patient A at around 09:50. Patient A was not conveyed to hospital.
8. It is alleged that during this attendance, the Registrant was rude to Person A and displayed inappropriate behaviour towards Person A, by asking questions in an inappropriate tone, namely questioning why an ambulance had been called, and asking if Person A was going to the pharmacy.
9. After the Registrant and Witness 3 had left the home address of Patient A, Person A re-dialled 111. During her conversation with the 111 call handler, Person A complained about how the Registrant had behaved towards her. As a result of the call to 111, Person A took Patient A to see a doctor at the out of hours clinic located in Harrogate Hospital (the Hospital). Following this consultation, the doctor referred Patient A to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) within the Hospital.
10. Later the same day, whilst at the Hospital, the Registrant and Witness 3 were told that a complaint had been made about an ambulance crew. They subsequently realised that the complaint was by Person A and concerned the Registrant.
11. Whilst Patient A and Person A were waiting in A&E, the Registrant and Witness 3 attended the same A&E with a different patient. It is alleged that the Registrant, on seeing Person A, displayed inappropriate behaviour, in that she approached Person A and said words to the effect of ‘You reported me, because of you I will be suspended’ and to the effect that she had been nothing but professional to Person A’s mother that morning. She is also alleged to have displayed inappropriate behaviour by guiding Person A out of the waiting room, despite Person A’s requests to stay with her mother, to a separate waiting area where she continued to speak to Person A about the complaint.
12. Within days of the incident, albeit the exact date is unknown, Person A submitted a written complaint to YAS about the behaviour of the Registrant. Witness 1, was assigned the matter to investigate either at the end of April 2015 or the beginning of May 2015.
13. On 24 April 2015, Witness 3 provided a statement for the investigation. On 1 May 2015, Witness 3 attended a fact finding interview with Witness 1. It is alleged that on 24 September 2015, the Registrant telephoned Witness 3 and attempted to influence his testimony at the forthcoming disciplinary hearing. It is alleged that during the telephone conversation on 24 September 2015, the Registrant told Witness 3 that he had not included certain information in his witness statement, that she would lose her job if the information was not included, and that he had ‘condemned her’.
14. At the hearing in March 2017, the Original Panel found all the particulars of the Allegation proved. The Original Panel further found that the proved facts were sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct.
15. Having found proved all the facts as set out set out in the particulars of the Allegation and having determined that those facts amounted to misconduct, the Original Panel had regard to the HCPC Practice Note on impairment and in particular the two elements of impairment namely “the personal component” and “the public component”. The Original Panel held that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired in both respects.
16. In coming to the conclusion that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired, the Original Panel noted that there was no evidence from the Registrant of an apology, remorse or recognition of the impact of her behaviour on other professionals or on service users. Further there was no explanation from the Registrant as to her behaviour or as to her current employment. The Original Panel concluded that in the absence of insight there remained a risk of repetition on her part and that “in respect of the personal component, her fitness to practise is currently impaired”.
17. The Original Panel further concluded that public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, together with the need to declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and conduct would be undermined, if a finding of impairment was not made. Accordingly the Original Panel found that in respect of “the public component” the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.
18. The Original Panel concluded that a sanction was necessary. It determined that taking no action, mediation or making a caution order would not be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of the case.
19. The Original Panel then considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order but concluded that in this case such an Order was inappropriate. The Original Panel explained its reasons as follows;
“Although the Panel was of the view that the conduct was capable of being remedied, it was not, however, satisfied that it had, in fact, been remedied. As the last communication from the Registrant had been her self referral on 25 October 2015, the Panel did not have before it information about her current personal circumstances, and, as earlier found, no information of remediation or reflection. This meant that the Panel could not assess whether or not the Registrant would cooperate with or be able to comply with conditions. Also, the nature of the misconduct was not clinical, but behavioural and so it would be difficult to formulate conditions to address the misconduct.
The Panel was also of the view that paragraph 27 of the ISP was relevant and applicable in this case given the Registrant’s lack of engagement thus far. That paragraph states: ‘The imposition of conditions requires a commitment on the part of the registrant to resolve matters and therefore conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases: where there are serious (…) overall failings; the registrant lacks insight…’. The Panel therefore concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order is inappropriate in this case.”
20. The Original Panel proceeded to consider making a Suspension Order and concluded that that a 6 months Suspension Order was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest. The Original Panel expressed its reasons as follows:
“The Panel next considered a Suspension Order and concluded that this was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest. Given the nature of the Registrant’s conduct, together with the risk of repetition which had been identified, the Panel was satisfied that such an Order would provide appropriate protection to service users. Such an Order is also required to maintain public confidence in the profession, as well as declare professional standards, as it marks the seriousness of the departure from proper standards, displayed by the Registrant.
The Panel considers that the length of the Order should be for 6 months in all the circumstances of this case. This is to mark the seriousness of the misconduct and is with a view to giving the Registrant the opportunity to demonstrate to the next panel that she has reflected on her conduct and has developed insight. She should be able to identify how it was that she allowed her personal frustrations to dictate her behaviour at the time, what steps she would take to ensure that she would not behave in the same way in future and an understanding of the impact of her behaviour on others, as well as on the public’s confidence in the profession.”
21. The Original Panel stated that given its conclusion that the impairment was remediable, a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate “at this time” although all options would be open to a future reviewing Panel.
22. With regard to a review by a reviewing Panel, the Original Panel indicated what might be helpful to that Panel, stating as follows:
“This Panel does not seek to fetter the discretion of a future reviewing Panel, but it considers that such a Panel may be assisted by the attendance of the Registrant at any review, so that she may provide evidence of insight and remediation. Such evidence might include, written testimonials, a commitment to keeping her knowledge and skills up to date and providing a genuine reflection on her conduct, including:
• How it was that she came to behave in the inappropriate manner displayed on 6 April 2015 and 24 September 2015;
• An understanding of the impact her behaviour would have had on Person A, Patient A, the members of the public present at A&E and her professional work colleagues;
• How she would avoid a repetition of such behaviour in the future; and
• How her conduct would undermine public confidence in the profession.”
Decision of this Panel
23. Ms Owusu-Akyem submitted that in view of the total lack of recent engagement by the Registrant and by her failure to comply with the suggestions made by the Original Panel as to what would assist this Panel, the proper conclusion was that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was still impaired. She further submitted that a further period of 6 months suspension would be the appropriate sanction.
24. Since 25 October 2015 when the Registrant self-referred herself to the HCPC, she has not engaged with the HCPC. There have been no representations made by, or on behalf of, the Registrant.
25. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
26. This Panel is aware that it has all the powers that are set out in Article 30  of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 [The Order] and which are summarised in the letter dated 27 July 2017, addressed to the Registrant and giving notice of this hearing.
27. This Panel is aware that the process under Article 30  of the Order is one of review and not one of appeal and that its function is to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired and if so whether the suspension order under review remains the appropriate and proportionate means of public protection or should be varied or replaced by some other order.
28. This Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. In coming to this conclusion this Panel noted that since October 2015 the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC. This Panel determined that for precisely the same reasons as those stated by the original Panel and which are summarised above, the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired. Both the personal and the public component remain engaged.
29. Having concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practice is still impaired, this Panel proceeded to consider what order is appropriate, proportionate and sufficient to protect the public and safeguard the public interest. This Panel took into account the principles of proportionality balancing the interests of the Registrant with the public interest.
30. This Panel has had regard to the contents of the Indicative Sanctions Policy published by the HCPTS and is aware that sanctions should be considered in ascending order of severity. This Panel is aware that the purpose of sanctions is not punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the public interest. The latter objective includes maintaining standards within the profession, together with public confidence in the profession and in its regulatory processes.
31. This Panel has concluded that to take no action, thus allowing the present order to lapse, a mediation order or to impose a caution order would be inappropriate having regard to the nature and gravity of the matters found proved. Such outcomes would not sufficiently protect the public or the public interest.
32. This Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate. In substance its reasons are the same as those stated by the Original Panel, which are summarised above. In coming to this conclusion, this Panel noted in particular, the absence of any evidence that the Registrant would, or would be in a position, to comply with any Conditions and further that there was no information as to the nature of her present employment.
33. This Panel then considered an extension of the existing Suspension Order. It was deeply troubled by the fact that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC since October 2015 and in particular has not complied with the suggestions made by the Original Panel as to what would assist this Panel. However this Panel has applied the principle of proportionality. It has taken into account, that the matters found proved are remediable in character and further, that the Registrant was a long serving paramedic and the Panel was not aware of any adverse regulatory history. In these circumstances, this Panel concluded, albeit not without some hesitation, that on this occasion, the first review of the original order, it would be disproportionate to make a striking off order. Accordingly this Panel has decided to make a further 6 months Suspension Order. However, and whilst not in any way seeking to bind any future panel, this Panel would urge the Registrant to engage with the HCPC and to comply with the suggestions made by the Original Panel, which are summarised above. The Registrant should understand that in the absence of engagement by her and should she fail to comply with the suggestions made by the Original Panel, there is a very real possibility that the next review will result in the making of a striking off order. Accordingly this Panel determines that a further 6 months suspension would be appropriate and proportionate.
The Order imposed today will apply from 05 October 2017 (the expiry of the current Order).
This Order will be reviewed by the Committee no later than 05 April 2018 or earlier if evidence which is relevant to the order becomes available after it was made.