Belinda P Quinlan

Profession: Physiotherapist

Registration Number: PH65427

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 14/06/2018 End: 16:00 15/06/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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

Whilst registered as a Physiotherapist, you:

1. On 24 November 2015, at St Alban's Magistrates' Court, received a conditional discharge in relation to the following offences:

a) On 16 October 2015, failed to provide a specimen of breath for analysis, contrary to section 7(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic

Offenders Act 1988.

b) On 16 October 2015, found drunk in a public place while having the charge of a child under the age of 7 years, contrary to section 2(1) of the Licensing Act 1902.

c) On 16 October 2015, found drunk in a public place while having the charge of a child under the age of 7 years, contrary to section 2(1) of the Licensing Act 1902.

d) On 16 October 2015, failed to stop after an accident occurred whereby damage was caused to another vehicle, contrary to section 170(4) of Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

2. The matters set out in paragraph 1 constitute misconduct.

3. By reason of your misconduct, as set out at paragraph 2, your fitness to practise as a Physiotherapist is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Application for part of the proceedings to be held in private 

1. The Panel heard an application by Ms Hart to hear parts of the hearing in private. Given the nature of the information the Panel determined to hear the application in private.

2. The Panel was satisfied that, for the protection of the private life of the Registrant and the private life of third parties, those parts of the hearing which gave personal and sensitive information about her personal and family life and/or her health, should be heard in private.

Background

3. The Registrant is registered with the HCPC as a Physiotherapist.

4. On 24 November 2015, the Registrant received a conditional discharge at the St Alban’s Magistrates’ Court in relation to four offences contrary to the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Licensing Act 1902, respectively. All four offences occurred on 16 October 2015 and they are:

• One offence of failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis;

• One offence of failing to stop after an accident occurred whereby damage was caused to another vehicle; and

• Two offences of being found drunk in a public place while having the charge of a child under the age of 7 years.

5. The Registrant pleaded guilty to all four of the offences. The length of the conditional discharge the Registrant received in relation to all four charges was for a period of 36 months (3 years). The Registrant was also disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of 24 months (2 years) with the option for the disqualification period to be reduced by 24 weeks provided that the Registrant completed a course approved by the Secretary of State, by 19 March 2017. In addition, the Registrant was ordered to pay a surcharge to fund victim services in the amount of £15 and ordered to pay a further £235 in costs and court charges.

6. By way of background; the offending relates to the Registrant driving a motor vehicle through a Burger King drive-through on Friday, 16 October 2015.

7. The Registrant reversed into a stationary vehicle at the Burger King drive through. Despite being asked to wait, the Registrant failed to wait for Police to arrive at the scene and drove home instead. A Police Officer found the Registrant a short time later at her home. She was found still seated in her vehicle in the driveway to her address with the car engine still running. She admitted to being involved in the accident at Burger King when asked by the Police Officer. The Registrant agreed to engage in a breath testing procedure at that point which revealed that she had 127 micrograms of alcohol per 100 mls of breath (the legal limit is 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 mls of breath). However, the Registrant failed to provide two evidential samples of breath at the police station.

8. The witnesses at the scene of the accident commented that the Registrant seemed dazed and had a strange manner. She appeared oblivious to any damage she had caused and appeared very subdued. One witness stated that she could smell alcohol on the Registrant’s breath. This is also noted by the Police Officer who later spoke to the Registrant at her address, noting that her speech was slurred.

Decision on Facts

9. In coming to its decision on facts the Panel had regard to all the evidence both oral and documentary. It was reminded that it is for the HCPC to prove its case and that there was no burden on the Registrant to prove anything. The standard of proof applied when considering whether the allegations are made out is that of the balance of probabilities. i.e. whether it is more likely than not to have occurred.

10. The Panel took into account the submissions made on behalf of the HCPC and those of Ms. Hart. It had regard to the advice of the Legal Assessor.

11. The Panel did not hear any live evidence from the HCPC. The HCPC relied upon the documentary evidence presented to the Panel.

12. The Panel heard oral evidence from the Registrant. She provided a detailed witness statement to the Panel and numerous medical records which the Panel considered.

13. The Panel was impressed with the Registrant’s level of insight and her candid replies.

Particular 1

14. At the outset of the hearing the Registrant admitted the facts of this particular in its entirety. The Panel also had regard to the Memorandum of Convictions dated 3 November 2015 and 24 November 2015.

15. This particular is proved.

Decision on Grounds

16. On the basis of the facts found proved the Panel went on to consider whether those facts amounted to misconduct. It took into account the submissions made by both parties and it also had regard to the advice of the Legal Assessor.  The Panel noted that in considering this matter it exercised its own judgement. The Panel also took into account the public interest which includes protection of patients, maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

17. The Panel first considered whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. The Registrant in her oral evidence accepted that the facts amounted to misconduct and Ms Hart on her behalf conceded that the facts admitted were a serious falling short of the standards expected of a professional.

18. The Panel considered the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics (that were in place at the relevant time) and it considered that the Registrant breached paragraph 3: “You must keep high standards of personal conduct” and paragraph 13: “…make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.” It noted that not all breaches of the code amount to misconduct.

19. The Registrant accepted that her conduct was so serious to amount to misconduct. In the Panel’s view the Registrant’s conduct was a serious falling short of the standard expected of her as a professional. The Registrant consumed so much alcohol that she was more than 3 times over the drink drive limit. She failed to stop at the scene of the accident and failed to provide two evidential samples of breath at the police station. Members of the public and the profession would be appalled at such behaviour by a registered physiotherapist. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct fell far short of the standards expected of her and amount to misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

20. The Panel has taken into account that the purpose of these proceedings is not to punish or re-punish the Registrant for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts and omissions of those who are not currently fit to practise. In approaching this task the Panel applied its own professional judgment. The Panel had regard to the Practice Note issued by the HCPTS. The Panel noted, in particular, the guidance relating to the need to consider cases from both an individual and public point of view expressed in terms of the personal and public components.

21. The Panel considered a number of authorities that it was referred to. It considered the case of Cohen-v- GMC [2008] EWHC 581 (Admin), At paragraph 65 Silber J. states:

“it must be highly relevant in determining a doctor’s fitness to practice [sic] is impaired that first his or her conduct which led to the charge is easily remediable, second that it has been remedied and third that it is highly unlikely to be repeated”.

22. The case of CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] reminds Panels of the need to consider the public interest. In particular, the Panel noted the following paragraphs;

74. “In determining whether a practitioner’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, the relevant panel should generally consider not only whether the practitioner continues to present a risk to members of the public in his or her current role, but also whether the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances.

75. I regard that as an important consideration in cases involving fitness to practise proceedings before the NMC where, unlike such proceedings before the General Medical Council, there is no power under the rules to issue a warning, if the committee finds that fitness to practise is not impaired. As Ms McDonald observes, such a finding amounts to a complete acquittal, because there is no mechanism to mark cases where findings of misconduct have been made, even where that misconduct is serious and has persisted over a substantial period of time. In such circumstances the relevant panel should scrutinise the case with particular care before determining the issue of impairment.”

23. The Panel also had regard to the case of Fleischmann v GDC  [2005] EWHC 87; where the judge stated;

“I am satisfied that, as a general principle, where a practitioner has been convicted of a serious criminal offence or offences he should not be permitted to resume his practice until he has satisfactorily completed his sentence. Only circumstances which plainly justify a different course should permit otherwise. Such circumstances could arise in connection with a period of disqualification from driving or time allowed by the court for the payment of a fine. The rationale for the principle is not that it can serve to punish the practitioner whilst serving his sentence, but that good standing in a profession must be earned if the reputation of the profession is to be maintained.”

24. In respect of the personal component, the Panel considered that the Registrant has shown considerable insight.  She accepted that what she did was appalling and unprofessional. She continues to engage with support services and has an effective support network.  Her misconduct had to be seen in the light of a previously unblemished career. The Panel is therefore satisfied that the risk of repetition is low.

25. The Panel went on to consider the public interest. These were very serious offences. The seriousness of her conduct was reflected in her lengthy conditional discharge. The Panel noted that her conditional discharge expires in November 2018. The Panel considered that the public and the profession would be appalled that, despite the Registrant’s difficult underlying circumstances, a professional had driven a car while three times over the legal limit of alcohol, with two children in the car, failed to stop at the scene of the incident and failed to provide an evidential breath sample. The Panel carefully considered all the circumstances but concluded that such conduct is unacceptable and a clear message is required to send to the public and the profession that such behaviour is unacceptable.

26. This conduct undermines public confidence in the profession and a finding of current impairment is required to uphold proper professional standards of conduct and behaviour and to maintain confidence in the regulator.

27. In conclusion the Panel concluded that your fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

32. The Panel next considered what, if any, sanction to impose. The Panel had regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy and the advice of the Legal Assessor.

33. The Panel took account of the submissions made by both parties. It also took into account the aggravating and mitigating factors identified in this case.  The Panel is aware that its role at this stage is not to be punitive although any sanction may have a punitive effect. The Panel also recognises the importance of proportionately, balancing the public interest against the interests of the Registrant.

34. The misconduct identified in this case is particularly serious. The Registrant was found to have driven with a high alcohol level in her blood. She had an opportunity to stop at the time of the incident which she did not do and she had the opportunity to provide a breath specimen which she failed to provide.

35. The Panel accepted that this was a single episode of misconduct and the Registrant has shown genuine remorse. She has shown significant insight into the circumstances that led to the events on that day in October 2015. She also demonstrated considerable insight into the remedial steps required to secure her recovery. The Panel also took account of the fact that, prior to this incident, the Registrant had an unblemished career.

36. The Panel notes that the Registrant successfully returned to work in October 2016. It saw evidence of numerous supportive testimonials. The Registrant’s current employer stated she “demonstrated a clear commitment to achieving the highest professional standards”. In addition, a testimonial provided by a professional colleague cited the Registrant’s “exceptional clinical capability and professional judgement”. The successful return to work demonstrates how much she has overcome and achieved since the time of the incident and the surrounding timeframe. She has been open and honest with her employers which is demonstrated in the documents before the Panel.

37. The Panel gave careful consideration to whether it would be appropriate to impose no order. However, it considered that given the seriousness of the misconduct, it would be inappropriate to impose no order as this would not satisfy the public interest in respect of the deterrent effect on other registrants, protecting the reputation of the profession and maintaining public confidence in the regulatory process.

38. The Panel next considered a Caution Order. It noted paragraph 28 of the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy:

“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”

39. The Panel took into account that this was an isolated episode. It also considered that there were no public protection issues. 

40. The Panel considered that a Caution Order is the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case. It determined that a duration of one year reflected the significant mitigation in this case and was sufficient to satisfy the public interest. Such an Order will send a clear message to other registered Physiotherapists of the need to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour, in particular, in respect of personal conduct. The Panel also considered that such an Order will maintain public trust in the physiotherapy profession and the HCPC as the Regulator.

41. In reaching this decision, the Panel also considered and excluded the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. This case did not concern any deficiencies in terms of skills or knowledge. It also considered that a Suspension Order would be disproportionate in all the circumstances.

42. In conclusion, a Caution Order for a period of one year is the appropriate and proportionate sanction.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Ms Belinda P Quinlan with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of one year from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Belinda P Quinlan

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
14/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution
09/02/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned