Ms Lucy May McGarrity

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW78229

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 06/12/2018 End: 17:00 06/12/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Hearing has not yet been held

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Allegation

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Social Worker; 

 

1. On the 11 December 2015 at Luton Crown Court, you were convicted of two counts of Theft. 

 

2. During the course of your employment by Bedford Borough Council, on 25 February 2014, you asked an adoptive family for a personal loan. 

 

3. During the course of your registration and/or application with Healthcare Locums Limited (HCL):  

a. You did not disclose that you worked for Bedford Borough Council in 2014.  

b. You stated that you were on a ‘career gap’ between January 2014 and April 2014, which was not the case.  

c. You did not state that you were the subject of a HCPC investigation regarding your fitness to practise.  

d. You did not disclose that you had been dismissed by Bedford Borough Council. 

 

4. Your actions described in paragraph 3 were dishonest. 

 

5. Your actions descried in paragraphs 2-4 constitute misconduct. 

 

6. By reason of your conviction described in paragraph 1 and/or your misconduct described in paragraphs 2-4, your fitness to practise is impaired

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Hearing in private


1. Matters relating to the Registrant’s health form an essential part of the background to this case.  Ms Senior for the HCPC submitted that any part of the hearing that related to the Registrant’s private life, namely her health condition, should be held in private in order to protect the private life of the Registrant. 

2. The Panel considered the HCPTS Practice Note on conducting hearings in private and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that Rule 10 of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules enabled the whole or part of the hearing to be held in private in the interests of justice or for the protection of the Registrant’s private life. The Panel determined that any part of the hearing containing a reference to the health of the Registrant should be held in private in order to protect her privacy.

Background

3. The Registrant was employed as Social Worker by Bedford Borough Council (the Council) in June 2013.  On 26 February 2014, a foster carer informed the Adoption Team Manager at the Council that the Registrant had sent her an email requesting a personal loan.  The Registrant was investigated in relation to this and other concerns regarding financial impropriety. The Council subsequently dismissed her from her employment.

4. On 8 April 2014, the Registrant applied to Healthcare Locums Workforce Solutions Limited (HCL) for temporary social work positions. She started work with Birmingham City Council on 15 May 2015, a position she had obtained through the HCL agency. On 26 August 2015, HCL received an HCPC email alert that informed them that the Registrant had been made subject to an Interim Suspension Order on 17 July 2015 in relation to the concerns that arose from her previous employment in 2014. The Registrant had not disclosed to the HCL agency that she was subject to fitness to practise proceedings and an Interim Suspension Order.

5. There was a police investigation into the theft allegations. The Registrant was subsequently arrested and charged with two offences of theft from service users arising from her employment by the Council in 2014. She pleaded guilty to both offences at Luton Crown Court on 11 December 2015 and was sentenced to a Community Order of two years’ duration with a supervision requirement. [PRIVATE - The Judge expressly referred to the Registrant’s gambling addiction as part of the background to the offences in his sentencing remarks. This information was available to the panel at the substantive hearing, although there is no direct reference to it in the record of their decision.]

6. A substantive hearing of a panel of Conduct and Competence Committee of the HCPC on 5-7 June 2017 found the facts proved. The conviction was serious because it involved theft, in breach of trust, from two vulnerable children service users. In relation to other particulars, the Registrant had attempted to borrow money from adoptive parents and she had presented a misleading picture of herself to her new employer when applying to HCL. The Panel found that the facts as proved amounted to conviction and misconduct. She had shown a blatant disregard for the values underpinning her profession and breached key professional standards.

7. In relation to impairment, the panel found that the Registrant lacked understanding of the consequences of her misconduct or the effect on the victims. There remained a likelihood of repetition. The panel also found that the Registrant’s misconduct was such as to undermine public confidence in her profession and that a finding of impairment was required to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour. 

8. The aggravating factors included the abuse of trust and premeditated dishonesty over a long period of time.  The mitigating factors included her admissions, her guilty plea and some limited evidence of remorse and insight. A Suspension Order of 12 months’ duration was imposed as a sanction. The misconduct was too serious for any lesser order and there remained a risk of repetition. 

9. The Registrant did not attend the first review hearing on 30 May 2018 but she submitted a written statement. The reviewing panel determined that there was evidence of superficial engagement in her statement, limited evidence of insight, understanding and reflection and no independent evidence of steps to remedy her misconduct. As a result, the risk of repetition could not be excluded. She had not worked as a Social Worker since 2015 and there was no evidence that she had maintained or updated her skills and knowledge. The Registrant’s fitness to practise therefore remained impaired on both the personal and public components. The Suspension Order was extended by a further 6 months, a period which would ‘provide the Registrant with what may be the final opportunity to demonstrate proper insight, properly reflect on the matters that led to the proceedings and to show by independent evidence that she has taken steps to remediate’.  A Striking Off Order was not appropriate at that stage, but the review panel warned the Registrant that it was her responsibility to remedy her misconduct and recommended that the next panel would be assisted by attending the hearing, providing evidence of work in any capacity, signed testimonials, a reflective statement and information about how she was managing her finances.

Evidence and Submissions

10. Ms Senior for the HCPC reminded today’s Panel of the history of the case and drew the Panel’s attention to a further statement from the Registrant that the HCPC had received on 5 December 2018. She reminded the Panel that there was a persuasive burden on the Registrant to satisfy it that the previous concerns had been overcome. She said that there was encouraging evidence of more detailed insight in the Registrant’s statement, in that she expressly acknowledged the impact of her actions on her profession, her colleagues and service users. She was also seeking help in managing her financial affairs. On the basis of this statement, Ms Senior said that the HCPC took a neutral stance in relation to the issue of impairment.

11. If the Panel were to find impairment, she submitted that steps taken by the Registrant to remedy her misconduct together with her insight, were such that a further Suspension Order may no longer be necessary or proportionate. She submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order might include conditions to notify any new employer of her misconduct and the fact that she was subject to an order. Other conditions could include undertaking a course on professional ethics in the workplace.

12. The Panel read the Registrant’s reflective statement that she had sent to the HCPC on 5 December 2018, in which she accepted that her conduct had been unacceptable and that it breached the values and ethics of the HCPC.  She acknowledged the damaging impact of her actions on the reputation of her profession, her colleagues who had to take over her workload and rebuild trust, and on the young service users from whom she stole money. She works as a receptionist at a holiday park in Devon, but she would like to return to her profession. She gave an example of how she had helped a young homeless man to gain temporary accommodation on the caravan site by using her knowledge and previous 15 years’ experience. She readily accepted that she would need to re-train and update her skills. She therefore accepted the HCPC’s suggestion that the Panel replace the current Suspension Order with conditions.

13. The Registrant gave oral evidence to the Panel by telephone. She described her misconduct as ‘horrific’ and said ‘It upsets me that I can no longer help people because of my stupid actions’.

14. In relation to the Registrant’s personal circumstances, she said that she was much better able to recognise her problems.  She said that she was a good Social Worker and was very proud of the work she did before her problems in 2014-15. She had lost her self-respect, but she now had a strong support network that included her parents and her friend/landlord. She described herself as an ‘open book’ who talked freely about her health issues to her family and friends. She had researched online and identified a course designed to help the management of her condition and had contacted the course organiser by email. She wished to impress upon the Panel how sorry she was and how much she had enjoyed working as a Social Worker. She managed her stress by being open and honest about her problems.
15. The Registrant submitted a written reference from a friend who has rented a room to her since she moved to Devon in July 2017. He was fully aware of her misconduct and the surrounding circumstances. He has known the Registrant for 14 years. He confirmed that she was remorseful in relation to her misconduct, and commended her personal qualities and positive attitude.

Decision on Impairment

16. A substantive review is a two stage process.  The first task of the Panel is to decide whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired and, if so, to then consider what, if any, sanction should be imposed upon their registration. In reaching its decision, the Panel has considered all the relevant material and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Notes on Impairment. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor on the principles of proportionality and fairness in considering impairment.

17. The Panel reminded itself of the public component in Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581: “the need to protect the individual and the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour which the public expect…and that the public interest includes, amongst other things, the protection of service users and the maintenance of public confidence in the profession.”
18. The Panel had firmly in mind that the purpose of this hearing was to conduct a thorough appraisal of the Registrant’s current fitness to practise, including changes of circumstances and an assessment of future risk, and that this was not a rehearing of the original case.

19. The Panel was impressed with the open and frank manner in which the Registrant had given her evidence to the Panel. This was the first time she had attended a hearing in this case. The Panel found that she had endeavoured to give her evidence truthfully. She had also demonstrated genuine enthusiasm for returning to her profession.

20. The Panel was, however, concerned that the Registrant’s health condition had not been more clearly identified in the record of the substantive hearing or identified at all in the review hearing in May 2018. This was not the Registrant’s fault. The Panel accepted her evidence that she had always been open about the issue and there was a clear reference to the matter in the Judge’s sentencing remarks. The Panel invites the HCPC to consider whether the health issue ought to be investigated separately as a health allegation.

21. The Panel considered the two component parts relating to impairment, the personal component and the public component. It first considered the personal component, whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was likely to be repeated.

22. In considering the issue of personal impairment, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had demonstrated significantly improved insight in relation to the effect on others of her misconduct. The Panel accepted that she had undertaken online research into taking a course run by Christian Against Poverty (CAP), although she had not yet formally booked to attend it. There was therefore evidence of some improvement in relation to insight and remedying her misconduct.

23. The Panel concluded that the original misconduct was remediable and that the Registrant had worked hard to remedy her failings. However, given the lack of supporting evidence, the Panel could not conclude that the Registrant has the necessary support or underpinning in place to resume a stressful and demanding position in social work at the present time. The Panel found that there remained a risk of repetition, albeit reduced, of similar conduct in view of her health condition. The Registrant’s current fitness to practise therefore remained impaired on personal grounds.
24. The Registrant had committed serious offences in breach of trust and there remained a risk of repetition. A finding of impairment was also necessary in the public interest in order to uphold professional standards and maintain confidence in the profession. A reasonable and informed observer would expect a finding of impairment in the circumstances of this case.

Decision on Sanction

25. The nature of the misconduct was too serious to make no order.  The Panel considered whether to impose a Caution Order, but decided that it was inappropriate, because this was not an isolated instance of misconduct and it would not provide sufficient public protection.

26. The Panel then carefully considered whether a Conditions of Practice Order would be workable. The Registrant has not worked as Social Worker since 2015 and accepts the need for further training and updating of skills. In making its finding of impairment, the Panel had found that there needed to be improvements in her support, some of which is already in place, to prevent a recurrence of her misconduct if she were to be re-employed to undertake demanding and stressful work.  The Panel therefore determined that the Registrant was not yet ready to return to practice with conditions

27. In coming to that conclusion, the Panel wished to emphasise that it was nonetheless encouraged by the Registrant’s attendance at the hearing and heartened by her enthusiasm for returning to her profession. The Panel was impressed that the Registrant was starting to engage with the HCPC but remained concerned as to the risk of repetition in view of her admitted health issues. The Panel therefore determined that a short extension of the current Suspension Order for a further period of 6 months was the necessary and proportionate measure to ensure public protection and to maintain public confidence in the profession.

28. Whilst the Panel cannot bind the next review panel, the Registrant may be better placed to persuade the next review panel that she can return to practise with conditions if she can attend the next review hearing and show that she has made progress in relation to the following:

1. Evidence of effective management of her condition, for example, by references from her parents or others who manage her finances

2. Evidence of the successful completion of a course on professional ethics

3. Evidence of the successful completion of a course in relation to the effective management of her health condition

4. Employment in an allied health or social care role, including evidence of this whether paid or voluntary, which would demonstrate her suitability to return to social work

5. References from such employers or managers.

 

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Lucy May McGarrity for a further period of 6 months on the expiry of the existing order.

 

Notes

This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 5 July 2019.

Right of Appeal:


You may appeal to the appropriate court against the decision of the Panel and the order it has made against you.  The appropriate court is the High Court in England and Wales.
Under Articles 30(10) and 38 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, an appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you. 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Lucy May McGarrity

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/12/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
30/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
05/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
10/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension