Mrs Lisa H Bullock
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During the course of your practice as a Social Worker at Birmingham City Council, you:
1. Accessed confidential records without having a professional reason to do so relating to:
a. Yourself, on or around 6 October 2011, 25 November 2011 and/or 4 January 2012;
b. Child A, on or around 27 December 2011;
c.Mr X, on or around 25 November 2011; and
d. Ms C, on or around 9 November 2011.
2. Did not adequately safeguard Child A and therefore they became the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
3. Did not cooperate with Birmingham City Council’s investigation to determine the risks to colleagues when Mr X, threatened your colleague Ms D, by failing to disclose your relationship with Mr X to Birmingham City Council.
4. Worked at Stoke on Trent Council, between 8 February 2013 and 19 April 2013, whilst claiming sick pay from Birmingham City Council.
5. Your actions described at paragraphs 1, 3 and 4 were dishonest.
6. The matters described in paragraphs 1 – 5 amount to misconduct.
7. By reason of that misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proceeding in private
1. The Panel heard that matters relating to the Registrant’s private life were to be discussed as part of this application. Ms Knight submitted that it was appropriate that parts of the hearing be held in private where the Registrant’s private life was to be discussed. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and it noted Rule 10(1)(a) of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Procedure Rules 2003 (“Procedural Rules”) whereby matters pertaining to the health and private life of the Registrant, the complainant, any person giving evidence or of any Patient or Client should be heard in private. The Panel agreed the parts of the hearing, where reference was to be made to the Registrant’s private life, should be heard in private.
2. The Registrant was a Band 5 Social Worker employed by Birmingham City Council (“the Council’). She commenced working for the Council on 1 March 2010.
3. An investigation was carried out by Witness 1, Head of Service for the Directorate for People, into allegations that the Registrant had accessed confidential records with no professional reason for doing so. The Council used a database called CareFirst as a central data system for records regarding all service users. Employees of the Council were provided with a unique username and password which allowed them to access records on the system. Records should only have been accessed where there was a professional purpose for doing so. The use of the login also enabled the Council to audit records which had been accessed. An audit of CareFirst confirmed that the Registrant had accessed her own records and those of her daughter, Child A, Mr X and Ms C. Witness 1 was assisted in his investigation by Witness 2, Business Change Manager and Witness 6, a Data Analyst.
4. The Registrant was referred to a team at the Council, known as the Person in a Position of Trust Team, as a result of safeguarding concerns regarding Child A. The Person in a Position of Trust Team meetings were chaired by Witness 3, the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) for safeguarding. The concerns centred on a number of allegations that Child A had been hit and that there was domestic abuse in the household where Child A was living.
5. Ms D was also a social worker at the Council although she did not work directly with the Registrant. On 4 January 2012 Ms D and her partner, Mr E, received a number of threatening phone calls from a man who identified himself as Mr X and as the partner of the Registrant. Ms D contacted Witness 4, Acting Area Manager, and set out what had been said during the phone calls. Witness 4 spoke to the Registrant and asked her if she knew Mr X. The Registrant denied knowing him. Ms D ultimately contacted the police due to concerns about the danger posed by Mr X The police confirmed that Mr X and the Registrant were in a relationship.
6. The Registrant claimed sick pay from the Council between 5 February 2013 and 19 April 2013 but was also working for Stoke on Trent Council at this time.
7. The Registrant gave evidence on oath. She told the Panel of her current circumstances, and her reflection on her misconduct.
Panel’s considerations and decision
8. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into consideration all the documentation before it, and the submissions of Ms Knight and Mr Lomax. In particular it noted the following factors:
(a) this is a case of misconduct and there is no suggestion that the Registrant lacked the requisite competence to carry out the role of a Social Worker;
(b) the engagement of the Registrant with the process. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant remained committed to the profession;
(c) the courses undertaken by the Registrant;
(d) the lack of references from her employer, despite the comments of the Panel that imposed the Suspension Order on the last occasion; and
(e) the reflective piece of the Registrant.
9. The Panel has had the opportunity to test the Registrant’s insight into her misconduct by asking her questions, and by reference to the evidence before it.
10. The Panel was satisfied, on the evidence before it, that the Registrant has developing insight into her failings in regard to maintaining confidentiality, information security, and safeguarding issues.
11. The Panel was not satisfied, on the evidence before it, that the Registrant was not liable to act dishonestly in future. Whilst it noted the Registrant’s assertion that she would not do so in future, it also noted that the Registrant has not provided references from her employers commenting on her honesty and integrity, despite the comments of the previous panel and the fact that this early review was at the Registrant’s request. The reference provided today was given in relation to a job application and not with these proceedings in mind. Such references are of limited weight, if any, when used in these proceedings, particularly where it appears that the writer is not aware of these proceedings, or the circumstances which led to them.
12. The Panel took into account what the Registrant said about not having repaid the money back to Birmingham City Council, and the difficulties envisaged as the Children’s Services of Birmingham City Council was now an independent trust called the Children’s Trust, operated by the Council. However, the Panel noted that, whilst difficulties in repaying might be envisaged due to the changes, the Registrant had not taken any steps to make enquiries as to how she could repay the money. The Registrant stated that she had put some funds into a separate building society account for the purpose of repayment.
13. In the light of all the above, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, in that it could not be satisfied that the Registrant was not liable to act dishonestly in future. The Panel makes it clear that on a review of a substantive order, it is for the Registrant to demonstrate that she is no longer impaired, as it is not the function of this Panel to go behind the finding of the previous panel that the Registrant’s fitness was impaired.
14. The Panel then went on to consider what the appropriate and proportionate sanction should be. It bore in mind that the purpose of a sanction was not punitive, although a sanction may have that effect.
15. The Panel also bore in mind that its over-arching objective is:
a) to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public;
b) to promote and maintain public confidence in the social work profession; and
c) to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of the profession.
16. The Panel also bore in mind the Registrant’s personal circumstances.
17. It had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy issued by the HCPC and considered the available sanctions in order of severity, starting with the least restrictive.
18. The Panel first considered imposing a Caution Order for a period of time. It was aware that a caution order is not an insignificant sanction. It will appear on the Registrant's online register entry for the period specified. It will appear with a link to the Panel’s decision for any prospective employer to access. However, the lack of evidence of full insight on the part of the Registrant with regard to her dishonesty means that it was appropriate that there be a further review of this matter. If a Caution Order was imposed, there would be no further review of this matter.
19. The Panel considered whether to impose a Conditions of Practice Order but concluded that it would neither be appropriate nor could it formulate adequate conditions that would properly address the root of the issue, that is the lack of sufficient evidence of the Registrant’s honesty and integrity.
20. The Panel considered extending the current Suspension Order and determined that it was the appropriate and proportionate sanction in the light of the allegations and in these circumstances. In coming to this decision, it also took into account the following factors, in addition to the above:
(a) the misconduct was not fundamentally incompatible with Registration;
(b) there was no evidence of harmful deep-seated personality or attitudinal problems;
(c) there was no evidence of repetition of behaviour since the incident; and
(d) there was evidence of remorse on the part of the Registrant.
21. The Panel also determined that the Registrant’s registration should be further suspended for a period of six months from today. This should be sufficient for her to gather the evidence of her insight and references from the appropriate persons with direct knowledge of her honesty and integrity, and of these proceedings.
22. The Panel did not consider that the current circumstances are such that they indicated that a Striking Off Order was appropriate, nor justified. This is in light of the engagement of the Registrant with this process, her commitment to remaining in the profession, and the public interest in retaining (where possible and appropriate) a Registrant who is able to make a valuable contribution to the profession.
23. The Panel reiterates the suggestions of the previous panel that any reviewing panel could be assisted by:
(a) A written reflective piece which demonstrated the Registrant’s understanding of her misconduct in respect of accessing records for personal reasons and without authority to do so and relating to her dishonesty, and in particular its possible impact on the public, the reputation of the profession, and undermined the expectation of a Social Worker to promote and maintain proper professional standards of conduct and behaviour;
(b) Up to date and relevant testimonials from paid or unpaid work (including from any current or previous line managers). These testimonials should include comments relating to the Registrant’s honesty and integrity, and also indicate that they are aware of these proceedings.
24. The Panel determined to extend the current Suspension Order for a further period of 6 months from today under Article 30(2). The Order will therefore now expire on 11 June 2019.
The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Lisa H Bullock for a further period of 6 months from today’s date. This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 11 June 2019.
The order imposed today will apply immediately.
This order will be reviewed before its expiry on 11 June 2019.
History of Hearings for Mrs Lisa H Bullock
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