Mrs Denise Whitworth

Profession: Practitioner psychologist

Registration Number: PYL22042

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 06/02/2018 End: 12:30 06/02/2018

Location: Radisson Blu Hotel, Meridian Gate, Bute Terrace, Cardiff, CF10 2FL.

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

Please note that the decision can take up to 5 working days to be uploaded onto the HCPTS website. Please contact one of our Hearings Team Managers via tsteam@hcpts-uk.org or +44 (0)808 164 3084 if you require any further information.

 

Allegation

(as found proved at the substantive hearing):


1. On 18 September 2015 at Swansea Crown Court you were convicted of dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to a loss.

2. By reason of your conviction as set out at paragraph 1 your fitness to practise as a Practitioner Psychologist is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters


Proof of Service


1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been posted on 11 January 2018 by first class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.  The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in Absence

2. Having determined that service of the Notice of Hearing had been properly effected, the Panel went on to consider whether to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

3. The Panel determined that it was fair, reasonable and in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence for the following reasons:

a) The Panel noted that prior to the substantive hearing the Registrant sent an email, dated 2 February 2017, in which she stated, ‘please note that I will not be attending future hearings in respect of my registration with regard to historical fitness to practice [sic] concerns.’ The Registrant did not attend the substantive hearing in February 2017 and the HCPC has received no further communication from her, other than three emails, dated 28 June 2017, 1 August 2017 and 15 December 2017. The 28 June 2017 email was in response to an email from the HCPC confirming that further information had been received, raising a concern that the Registrant had undertaken additional work whilst on sick leave which had not formed part of the Allegation at the substantive hearing. In that email the HCPC confirmed that it would not be opening a new case but that the additional information would be made available to the review panel. The Registrant responded, ‘I have retired. I no longer practise.’. The Registrant’s 1 August 2017 email was in response to an email from the HCPC (sent on the same date) chasing a response to an earlier email from the HCPC dated 6 July 2017. The Registrant responded, ‘Please remove me immediately by VRA.’ The Registrant’s 15 December 2017 email was sent in response to a chaser email from the HCPC with regards to non-return of the Voluntary Removal Form that had been sent by email to the Registrant on 4 December 2017. The Registrant responded, ‘If you send me mail I will kill myself.’ In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and her right to participate in these proceedings.

b) There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that she would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this review hearing would serve no useful purpose.

c) The Panel recognised that there may be a disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to make submissions with regard to her current fitness to practise or her current intentions. However, she was given the opportunity to participate in these proceedings and has not taken up that opportunity. In these circumstances, as this is a mandatory review the Registrant’s interests are outweighed by the strong public interest in ensuring that the hearing proceeds expeditiously.

Background

4. The Registrant was employed as a Practitioner Psychologist at Cwm Taf University Health Board (“UHB”). The Registrant was employed on a part time basis, working 21 hours a week. The Registrant also conducted a private psychology business called FACETS which she undertook in the two days a week she was not working at UHB. Her manager, JD, was aware of this private work and it was permitted.

5. On 18 September 2015, the Registrant was tried and convicted of dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to a loss. She was sentenced on 9 October 2015. The sentence was a community sentence for a period of 12 months with supervision for 12 months, unpaid work of 150 hours, a compensation order in the sum of £1,690.54 and prosecution costs of £1,300.

6. The Registrant attended work at UHB on 30 October 2012. She met with JD on that day. The Registrant was unhappy with the role she had been allocated at the UHB and expressed her concerns about the impact on her health of the travelling that she was required to undertake when visiting schools to attend clients. The Registrant left work on 30 October 2012, complaining of a back condition, and remained on sick leave until 28 April 2013. After a one week period covered by self-certification, she submitted MED3 certificates provided by her General Practitioner. The MED3 certificates indicated that back pain was the condition causing her absence from work.

7. On 12 February 2013 the Local Counter Fraud Specialist (LCFS) received a referral from UHB’s Human Resources Department which alleged that the Registrant was running a private psychology business when she was on long term sickness absence. The referral stated that private consultations had taken place at Cyncoed Consulting Rooms in Cardiff. The Manager of Cyncoed confirmed the hire of a consulting room on five different dates during the period of the Registrant’s sick leave from her NHS post.

8. The Registrant was interviewed under caution on 11 April 2013 where she confirmed she had made the Cyncoed bookings. She stated that JD had informed her in the meeting on 30 October 2012 that he did not see a problem if she continued her private business whilst on sick leave.

9. The LCFS interviewed the Registrant’s manager, JD, who confirmed that there was no discussion of her private work during the meeting on 30 October 2012 or at any other time and that the Registrant did not have permission to run her business while she was absent on sick leave.

10. The Registrant was interviewed again on 18 August 2014. She was shown documents referring to Cyncoed and documents from Regus in Swansea where she had also hired rooms for private consultations during her sickness absence. The Registrant confirmed that she had made the bookings while on sick leave from her NHS role, but continued to maintain that JD was aware that she was doing so.

11. The LCFS investigation identified that the Registrant had hired rooms at Cyncoed Consulting Rooms or Regus Swansea on fifteen dates when she was on sick leave from UHB. The value of the Registrant’s fraud was calculated as £1,690.54, which is the gross cost of the Registrant’s salary for the fifteen dates.

12. The UHB Sickness Absence Policy in place at the time stated: “an employee absent because of sickness is regarded as unfit to work and must not undertake any employment outside their organisation, unless it has first been agreed by their manager”. The policy also stated: “an employee who does undertake other work during sickness absence, without the prior written consent of the manager, may be considered in breach of contract and will be subject to disciplinary action which may result in the involvement of the counter fraud department and/or dismissal”. In interview the Registrant stated that she had previously worked as a manager and was therefore aware of the policy.

13. The Registrant had been referred to the HCPC in September 2013 and following her conviction a substantive hearing fitness to practise hearing took place on 16-17 February 2017. Having found the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired by reason of her conviction, the substantive hearing panel imposed a 12 month Suspension Order. The Panel took the view that a future review panel may be assisted by:


• the attendance of the Registrant in person;
• the Registrant’s reflections on the impact of the conviction on the reputation of her profession and public confidence in the profession;
• the Registrant’s reflections on the importance of strict adherence to policies;
• references or testimonials relating to her honesty and integrity (for example from the Registrant’s employer in any paid or voluntary work she has undertaken);
• evidence that the Registrant has kept up to date with professional developments.

HCPC Submissions

14. Mr Demissie, on behalf of the HCPC, outlined the background and the procedural history of this case. He referred the Panel to the information that the final hearing panel had suggested the Registrant may wish to provide to assist this reviewing panel and confirmed that there has been no substantive engagement from the Registrant. He submitted that at the very least the Panel should consider extending the current Suspension Order, but in view of the Registrant’s lack of engagement, it may be appropriate to impose a Striking Off Order.

Panel’s Approach

15. In undertaking this review, the Panel took into account the documentary evidence and the submissions made on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel noted that it was unclear whether the dates with regard to the additional work that the Registrant was said to have undertaken were accurate. It was thus unclear where the Registrant was employed during the relevant time. In these circumstances the Panel disregarded the additional information and based its review solely on the previous panel’s findings at the substantive hearing. 

16. The Panel accepted and applied the advice it received from the Legal Assessor as to the proper approach it should adopt. In particular that:

• The purpose of the review is to consider the issue of impairment based on the previous panel’s findings of fact, the extent to which the Registrant has engaged with the regulatory process, the scope and level of her insight and the risk of repetition.

• In terms of whether her previous conviction has been sufficiently, and appropriately remedied relevant factors include whether the Registrant:

i. fully appreciates the gravity of the previous panel’s finding of impairment;
ii. has maintained or updated her skills and knowledge;
iii. has demonstrated insight.

• The Panel should have regard to the HCPTS Practice Note: ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired’ and must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:

i. the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
ii. the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

• It is only if the Panel determine that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, that the Panel should go on to consider sanction by applying the guidance as set out in the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and the principles of proportionality which require the Registrant’s interests to be balanced against the interests of the public.

Decision  

17. The Panel noted that the Registrant appears to have ‘retired’ from her profession and indicated in her email, dated 1 August 2017, that she wished to enter into a voluntary removal agreement. However, the Registrant has not engaged with the procedure that would have made voluntary removal a viable option and given the reference to self-harm in the Registrant’s email dated 15 December 2017, the Panel recognised that the HCPC chose to limit correspondence with her so as not to cause any undue stress.

18. As there has been no meaningful engagement from the Registrant since the substantive hearing took place in February 2017, there was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant appreciates the gravity of her criminal conviction or acknowledged her wrongdoing.  In the absence of any insight and any steps the Registrant has taken towards remediation, the Panel concluded that there has been no material change in circumstances with regards to the impact on public trust and confidence. The Panel noted that a significant aspect of the public component is upholding proper standards of behaviour. Members of the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a practitioner psychologist who had been convicted of a dishonesty offence had failed to take any steps to acknowledge her wrongdoing or take the opportunity to persuade the Panel that she is committed to upholding the high standards expected of registered practitioners. The Panel concluded that, in these circumstances, a finding of no impairment would fail to declare and uphold proper standards and would undermine public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as a professional regulator given the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s previous conduct and behaviour.

19. Therefore, the Panel was led to the inevitable conclusion that, the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired on the basis of the public component.  

20. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired the Panel went on to consider what sanction, if any, to impose.

21. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s conviction which remains un-remediated, to take no action on her registration would be inappropriate. Furthermore, it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.

22. The Panel went on to consider a Caution Order. As the Registrant has persistently demonstrated no insight into the conduct underlying her criminal conviction and provided no evidence of remediation, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to protect the public and meet the wider public interest.

23. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel took the view that the Registrant is either unwilling or unable to provide the information that was suggested by the substantive hearing panel and to demonstrate that she is committed to making a return to practice. In these circumstances, this Panel had no confidence that she would comply with a Conditions of Practice Order, even if suitable conditions could be formulated. The Panel was aware that the suggestions made by the previous panel are only indicative and do not have any binding authority, unlike conditions which require compliance. However, both involve willingness on the part of the Registrant and a determined effort. In any event, given that the underlying nature of the Registrant’s previous conduct relates to an attitudinal failing, the Panel concluded that there were no conditions it could devise which would be appropriate, workable and measurable.

24. The Panel next considered extending the current Suspension Order for a further period of time. A Suspension Order would re-affirm to the Registrant, and the profession the standards expected of a registered practitioner psychologist. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order would prevent the Registrant from practising during the extended suspension period, which would therefore protect the public and the wider public interest. A Suspension Order would also provide the Registrant with the opportunity to develop the insight which is essential if she is to return to practice. However, the Panel took into account paragraph 41 of the ISP which states:

‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option.’

25. The Panel took the view that the above paragraph applies to the Registrant. The Panel determined that there was no information available to indicate that the Registrant was willing to address the damage caused to her personal reputation and her profession as a whole as a consequence of her criminal conviction. The Registrant had failed to take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate her commitment to the practise of psychology and a plan towards a return to practice and there was no indication that she would do so in the future. On the contrary, the Registrant’s most recent communication with the HCPC strongly suggests that she has made the conscious decision to relinquish her practice as a registered practitioner psychologist.  In these circumstances the Panel concluded that extending the current suspension order would be an inappropriate use of the valuable resources of time and costs and would serve no useful purpose. 

26. The Panel determined that a Striking Off Order should be imposed with immediate effect. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account paragraph 48 of the ISP which states:

‘Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight [or] continuing problems... A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.’

27. The Panel was satisfied that there was no public interest in maintaining the Registrant’s name on the Register and subjecting her to further reviews when she has made it clear that she has no intention of returning to practise or engaging with the fitness to practise procedures. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that no sanction lower than a Striking Off Order would be sufficient to protect the wider public interest. 

Order

Order: That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Denise Whitworth from the Register with immediate effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 6 February 2018.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Denise Whitworth

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/02/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
05/01/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
16/02/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended