Miss Julie A Barker

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW01295

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 17/07/2018 End: 16:00 17/07/2018

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

Panel: Health Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

 

The Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reasons of their health.

 

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1.  The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter dated 9 May 2018 which informed the Registrant of the date, time and venue of the hearing.

Proceeding in Absence

2. Ms Manning-Rees made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She told the Panel that there had been some telephone contact between the HCPC and the Registrant’s husband. On 23 April 2018 the Registrant’s husband advised that the Registrant would not be in attendance at the preliminary or the final hearing. There was a discussion about the option of attending by telephone, but this option was not taken up. On 19 June 2018 the Registrant’s husband telephoned the HCPC and requested more time to complete and return the Proforma (a form about attendance at the hearing which is sent with the papers). There was no further contact from the Registrant or the Registrant’s husband. 

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

4. The Panel exercised its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel noted that the HCPC has taken all reasonable steps to enable the Registrant or the Registrant’s husband to attend the hearing. The Panel considered that an adjournment would not secure the Registrant’s attendance nor had an adjournment been requested. It was not in anyone’s interests, including the Registrant’s interests, for the case to be adjourned. A witness was in attendance for a second occasion and was ready to give her evidence. It was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously.

Hearing in Private
5. Ms Manning-Rees made an application for the whole of the case to be heard in private to protect the Registrant’s private life.

6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Conducting Hearings in private”.

7. The Panel agreed to hear the whole case in private to protect the Registrant’s private life. The Registrant’s health is central and it was not practicable to identify and separate parts of the hearing which could be heard in public.

8. As such, this is a redacted public copy of the decision.

Background

8. The Registrant was employed at Hartlepool Borough Council (the “Council”) between 1979 and 2016. From 1998 to 2016, she was employed as a Social Worker. The Registrant’s direct line manager from April 2015 was GS, Children’s Centre Manager.

9. In May 2016 the Council made a referral to the HCPC. The referral advised that the Registrant had been diagnosed with a health condition in May 2015 and explained the steps that had been taken by the Council to provide support and adjustments. At the time of the referral the Registrant was not undertaking any of the duties of a Social Worker.

Decision on Facts

10. The Panel heard evidence from GS. The Panel found that she was a thoughtful, honest and credible witness. For example she explained when she was not able to answer a question because she had not attended the relevant meetings. She was empathetic towards the Registrant without allowing that to affect her judgment.

11. GS explained that she became the Registrant’s line manager in April 2015. At that time, there were concerns about the Registrant’s performance and she undertook a risk assessment. The plan was to provide her with a supportive working environment at the Children’s Centre to enable her to recover her confidence so that she could resume a more responsible role. Shortly after GS took over the line management of the Registrant, she was informed of the Registrant’s diagnosis.

12. The Registrant was referred to Occupational Health and GS sought to implement the recommendations. There were regular meetings involving GS and the Registrant to also discuss the actions in the risk assessment. The support included decisions on case allocation, assistance with diary management, a reduction in working hours, and the allocation of an office where she could work without distraction. GS also provided more personal support, which included a daily check on the Registrant’s welfare.

13. Despite the support provided GS described a deterioration over time in the Registrant’s abilities despite a consequent decrease in the responsibilities allocated to her. When the Registrant was carrying out part of the role of a family support worker, involving supervised contact between children and their parents, there were concerns. GS therefore arranged that the Registrant should only work in a supportive role with another family support worker when supervising contact and should not be responsible for note taking. GS also explained that there were changes in the arrangements for contact meetings with children.

14. By the time of the referral to the HCPC the Registrant was not carrying out duties commensurate with a Social Worker post.

15. The Registrant indicated in some meetings attended by GS that she would consider the option of removing herself from the HCPC register, but she did not do so.

16. The Panel read the witness statements of RB, a Legal Assistant at Kingsley Napley. The Panel gave weight to the hearsay evidence of RB, as factual evidence supported by contemporaneous documents. RB’s evidence was consistent with the oral evidence of GS and the documentary evidence.

17. RB’s first statement sets out the chronology of the relevant HCPC decisions and contact with the Registrant. On 19 July 2017 a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee adjourned the hearing and decided that the Health Committee would be better placed to consider whether or not the Registrant’s actions arose as a direct consequence of her health condition.

18. On 24 July 2017 an HCPC Case Manager wrote to the Registrant via e-mail and letter and explained that the HCPC would like to obtain an expert report in relation to her health condition. The Registrant was asked to complete a consent form. After some delay, the Registrant returned the consent form to the HCPC in October 2017.

19. On 20 October 2017, RB wrote to the Registrant’s GP, attaching the signed consent form, and asking for a letter setting out the Registrant’s health condition, any on-going treatment, and a prognosis. A request was also made for a copy of the latest correspondence from the Registrant’s treating consultant.

20. On 2 November 2017, RB received a telephone call from the secretary at the Registrant’s GP surgery. The secretary advised that the GP had attempted to arrange an appointment with the Registrant, but the appointment could not go ahead.

21. On 9 November 2017, RB wrote a further letter to the Registrant’s GP requesting a letter confirming the Registrant’s medical condition but was unable to obtain this letter.

22. RB made further attempts to obtain a GP letter, but was advised that the GP was unable to provide any information or any comment of the Registrant’s condition without her consent, and would not provide the letter requested.

23. RB also attempted to obtain the Registrant’s Occupational Health Records, but was unsuccessful because the Council could not provide the records without the Registrant’s consent.

24. On 6 March 2018, the HCPC provided Kingsley Napley with three documents received from the Registrant’s husband. These documents were extracts from correspondence from a Consultant. The three documents state the Registrant’s diagnosis. The documents are dated 23 June 2017 and 1 December 2017.

25. The Panel decided that the Registrant has been diagnosed with a health condition. This condition was first diagnosed in May 2015 and is formally confirmed by extracts from correspondence from a medical practitioner in 2017.

Decision on Grounds

26. In the Panel’s judgment the statutory ground of health applies because of the Registrant’s medical diagnosis.

Decision on Impairment 

27. The Panel applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise as at today’s date.

28. Although the Panel does not have the benefit of full and up to date medical evidence, there is consistent and reliable evidence that the Registrant’s health was deteriorating and was having an increasing impact on her ability to function as a Social Worker during the period April 2015 to the end of 2016. Despite the support and adjustments, there were concerns that the Registrant was unable to undertake a reduced role of supervising contact with children. GS described some of the issues which arose from the Registrant’s condition.

29. Although the evidence relating to the period of time after 2016 is limited, there is nothing which suggests any improvement in the Registrant’s health or her abilities.

30. The Panel was not able to make an assessment of the current level of the Registrant’s insight, but considered that this was not a case where insight was relevant to the assessment of the level of risk for the public.

31. The tasks that the Registrant was undertaking of supervising contact with children under GS’s management are basic for a Social Worker. Despite her sympathy for the Registrant, GS’s risk assessment was that the Registrant was not safe to undertake supervising contact with children on her own. Records are critical because they are relevant both to the assessment of parenting skills and may influence decisions of the Court on outcomes for children, for example whether children should be permanently removed from their parents’ care.

32. The Panel identified a significant risk for the public because there was and remains a risk to service users. If the Registrant were to practise as a Social Worker she would have the responsibility to make critical decisions about the protection of vulnerable children and families. There would be a significant risk that she would not have the ability to protect the children in her care. The consequences could be serious and wide-ranging.

33. The Panel also considered the wider public interest considerations. The concerns in this case involved a reputational risk for the Council and are sufficiently serious to involve a reputational risk for the profession. There was evidence of direct impact on service users and potential for this to reoccur. For example, on 16 May 2016 the Council received information from a service user saying that “she is concerned about Julie Barker’s welfare”. Although members of the profession and the public would have sympathy with the circumstances, they would expect the Regulator to take action to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

34. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component and the public component.

Decision on Sanction

35. In considering which, if any, sanction to impose the Panel had regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and the advice of the Legal Assessor.
36. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to punish the practitioner, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The Panel ensured that it acted proportionately, and in particular it sought to balance the interests of the public with those of the Registrant, and imposed the sanction which was the least restrictive in the circumstances commensurate with its duty of protection.
37. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Manning-Rees. On behalf of the HCPC she proposed that the option of taking no further action may be appropriate.
38. The Panel considered the option of taking no action. The guidance in the ISP is that this option is available to the Panel, but that it will be exceptional. It may be appropriate if the finding of fitness to practise is for wider public interest reasons, the Registrant has demonstrated insight and has taken remedial action. The Panel considered that these criteria did not apply in the Registrant’s case. Although the Registrant has elected to take early ill-health retirement, she remains free to return to practise as a Social Worker at any time. If she were to do so, there would be an ongoing risk to the public, as explained in the Panel’s decision on current impairment. The Panel decided that the option of taking no action would be inconsistent with its decision on current impairment. The Panel did not accept how taking no action would be commensurate with the primary obligation of protecting the public.
39. The Panel therefore did not agree with the HCPC proposal that no further action was appropriate.
40. The Panel next considered the option of a Caution Order, but decided that this option was not sufficient to protect the public. Although a Caution Order would be a mark on the register, the Registrant would otherwise be free to practise as a Social Worker without restriction. There would be insufficient protection against the risk of harm to service users. The Registrant has also not demonstrated that she has sufficient insight to identify when and how her health may pose a risk of harm for service users so that she would cease practising when it was unsafe. The Panel make no criticism of the Registrant.
41. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel decided that conditions would not be workable or sufficient. The Panel noted that the support provided by the Council was not effective to enable the Registrant to practise as a Social Worker. There were ongoing concerns about risk even when the Registrant was working in a position which was less demanding than the role of Social Worker. The Panel did not have a sufficient degree of confidence that the Registrant would adhere to conditions of practice. The Panel also took the view that it was not practicable to formulate conditions which adequately addressed the wide-ranging risks in this case.
42. The Panel considered the more serious option of a Suspension Order and decided that this was the appropriate and proportionate order. A Suspension Order would provide an adequate measure of public protection because the Registrant cannot practise as a Social Worker while she is suspended. It would also be sufficient to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. It is the most restrictive sanction available to the Panel because the sanction of striking-off is not available.
43. The Panel recognised that it may not be in the Registrant’s interests for these proceedings to be protracted and that a Suspension Order and consequent review hearings will not permit an immediate conclusion to the matter. Nevertheless, the Panel’s primary duty is to protect the public and in accordance with that duty it decided that a Suspension Order is the only sanction which is sufficient.
44. The Panel next considered the appropriate length of the Order. The Panel decided that the maximum period twelve months was appropriate and proportionate because there is no evidence suggesting an improvement in the Registrant’s health is likely.
45. The Suspension Order will be reviewed before it expires. A review panel may be assisted by any information on the Registrant’s current health such as correspondence from the Registrant’s GP.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Julie A Barker for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

Proceeding in Absence

1. Ms Manning-Rees made an application that the HCPC application for an interim Suspension Order should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Registrant was advised that an application may be made in the Notice of Hearing dated 9 May 2018.

2. The Panel agreed to the application. The Registrant had been informed of the possibility of an application and the circumstances of her absence did not indicate that that there was any injustice in proceeding with the application.

The Application

3. Ms Manning-Rees applied for an Interim Suspension Order on the grounds that it was necessary for the protection of the public, was otherwise in the public interest, and was in the Registrant’s interests.

4. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

5. The Panel decided to make an Interim Suspension Order for a period of eighteen months to cover the appeal period and, if the Registrant were to appeal, time for conclusion of an appeal. The Panel made the order on the ground that it was necessary for the protection of the public. The Panel has found that there is an ongoing need to protect the public from risks that may arise if the Registrant were to practise as a Social Worker. The Panel considered that any other conclusion would be inconsistent with its decisions on current impairment and sanction.

6. The Panel also considered that an Interim Suspension Order was otherwise in the public interest because the concerns for the protection of the public are sufficiently high to engage the wider public interest. The Panel decided that it was also in the Registrant’s interests that she should not currently practise as a Social Worker due to her health.

7. The Panel considered the less restrictive option of interim conditions of practice, but decided that conditions would not be workable or sufficient.

8. The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest.  This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Julie A Barker

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
05/07/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing No further action
17/07/2018 Health Committee Final Hearing Suspended