Miss Anne Margaret O'Connor

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW13309

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 01/06/2018 End: 16:00 01/06/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

While employed as a Social Worker by Somerset County Council, you:

 

1) On dates between April 2016 and May 2016, completed Fostering Assessment reports (Form F) in relation to Service User A and did not record accurate information, in that you:

a) On or around 11 April and/or 11 May 2016, recorded that you had spoken to Person A when you had not communicated with him;

b) On or around 11 May 2016, quoted statements made by Person A which had not been made by him;

c) On or around 11 April, 04 May and/or 11 May 2016, recorded that you had spoken to Person B on the telephone when you had not communicated with him;

d) On or around 11 April, 04 May and/or 11 May 2016, recorded Person B’s comments about Service User A’s application, when you had not communicated with him;

e) On or around 11 May 2016, recorded statements made by Person C which were inaccurate and/ or were not obtained directly from a conversation with Person C.

 

2) On or around 13 May 2016, you provided Service User A with the Fostering Assessment report dated 11 May 2016 referred to at Particular 1, containing inaccurate information.

 

3) You did not maintain service user confidentiality in that on or around 20 March 2016, you used your personal email address and/or home IT equipment to send and/or receive confidential information from Service User A;

 

4) Your actions described in paragraph 1 (a) – (e) were dishonest.

 

5) Your actions described in paragraphs 1 and 4 constitute misconduct.

 

6) Your actions described in paragraphs 1 - 3 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

 

7) By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters:


Service

 

1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter dated 19 April 2018 which informed the Registrant of the date, time and venue of the hearing.

 

Proceeding in Absence

 

2. Ms Mbah made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She referred the Panel to an e-mail from the Registrant dated 28 May 2018. The Registrant stated: “I am afraid that I will not be attending the hearing. 1. In January 2018 I retired from the profession. 2. As I have now retired and have no intention of ever returning to the profession I see no reason to attend further hearings.”


3. On 30 May 2018, a Case Manager of the HCPC replied to the Registrant by e-mail, advising her that she could attend the hearing by telephone and reminding her that the Panel had the full range of sanctions at its disposal.


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


5. The Panel considered the circumstances of the Registrant’s absence. She has clearly stated that she will not attend this hearing or a future hearing. The Panel decided that she has waived her right to attend the hearing and that an adjournment would serve no purpose. The Registrant’s interests were outweighed by the public interest in the expeditious disposal of the matter. The Panel therefore decided to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant.


Background

 

6. The Registrant commenced employment as a Social Worker at Somerset County Council (the Council) in 1996. Since early 2012, the Registrant had held a number of sessionally-based agreements with the Council to provide Foster Carer Assessments, which were to be placed before Foster Carer Panels for decisions on applicant foster carers. This work was done in the Registrant’s spare time for a fee. By November 2015, she had completed three of these Assessments.

 

7. The matter concerning the Registrant related to preparation of a Foster Carer Assessment, known as a Form F, regarding foster carers, Service User A (SUA) and Service User B (SUB), in early 2016. The Allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at a Substantive Hearing on 14-16 November 2017. The Registrant did not attend the hearing and was not represented. The Substantive Hearing panel found all the facts of the Allegation proved, with the exception of particular 1(e). Those facts concerned errors in record keeping, a breach of confidentiality and dishonest recording of inaccurate information.


8. The Substantive Hearing panel found that the Registrant’s conduct constituted misconduct. The effect of the Registrant’s deception in the provision of inaccurate information was to severely undermine the trust and confidence of the public, the Council, and the profession in the reliability of the information that she produced. The Registrant’s dishonest actions completely undermined the reliability of the assessment process, and might have had the potential to place vulnerable children at risk, had the inaccuracies not come to light. The Registrant’s actions also undermined the protection of Service Users from breaches of confidentiality in respect of confidential material.


9. The Substantive Hearing Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired. There was nothing before that panel to indicate any remediation by the Registrant, and there was no evidence of remorse, insight, or reflection. The panel therefore concluded that there was a real risk of repetition unless the Registrant fully remediated her misconduct.


10. The Substantive Hearing panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction was a Suspension Order for a period of twelve months. That panel also made an Interim Suspension Order to cover the twenty eight day appeal period.

 

Decision

 

11. Ms Mbah referred the Panel to documentary evidence of the contact between the HCPC, the Registrant, and Devon Children’s Services, after the imposition of the Suspension Order.  The Registrant was employed as an agency social worker working at Devon Children’s Services for at least a month prior to the termination of her contract on 14 December 2017.  Ms Mbah submitted that the Registrant was aware of the Suspension Order and its immediate effect. The Registrant’s apparent breach of the Suspension Order was therefore serious and dishonest. Ms Mbah submitted that the appropriate Order was a Striking Off Order.


12. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Article 30(2) Reviews.


13. The Panel carefully reviewed the documentary evidence. On 16 November 2017, an HCPTS Hearings Officer sent an e-mail to the Registrant attaching a copy of the Final Hearing decision. The e-mail stated:


14. “The Panel decided to impose a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months….Please note that the substantive order made by the Panel will not start until the statutory appeal period of 28 days has expired and any appeal thereafter is disposed of. The sanction will apply for its full duration from the date it begins and not from the date on which it was imposed at the hearing”.


15. The e-mail did not explain that the Substantive Hearing panel also made an Interim Suspension Order or the immediate consequences of such an order.


16. The Registrant replied on 1 December 2017 stating that she was appealing against the decision and that the matter was in the hands of her solicitor.


17. On 13 December 2017 the Registrant sent a further e-mail stating that “my solicitor plans for the matter to be in your hands by January 2018”. The Registrant added that the grounds of the appeal would be the severity of the sanction. On 13 December 2017 a Case Manager of the HCPC sent an e-mail to the Registrant reminding her that the time limit for an appeal would expire the following day.


18. Ms Mbah told the Panel that there was no file note for a telephone conversation which took place between the Case Manager and the Registrant on 13 December 2017 for technical reasons.


19. The documents do not explain how the HCPC became aware that the Registrant was working as a Social Worker in breach of the Suspension Order. However, there is a file note of a conversation on 14 December 2017 between a Case Manager and the Registrant’s line manager at Devon Children’s Services.


20. A further file note dated 14 December 2017 records that an HCPC Case Manager received a call from PD of Devon Children’s Services. PD reported that the Registrant’s response to being advised that she was suspended was that “she explained that as she is appealing she thought she was able to continue working”.


21. On 14 December 2017 a solicitor instructed by the Registrant contacted the HCPC and asked for guidance on the appeal process.


22. On 7 February PD provided further information to the HCPC. He stated that the Registrant was placed with Devon County Council through an agency. He does not confirm her start date at Devon. He states that he became aware of the fitness to practise issues at 10 am on 14 December 2017.  He then returned to the office had a brief discussion with the Registrant after which she was escorted from the building. She maintained during the meeting that she was not suspended. PD states that he carried out a review of the Registrant’s work. There were no major safeguarding concerns and no complaints about her practice. There were some issues with quality of recordings and frequency of visits. PD also set out his understanding that a conversation took place between the Registrant and an HCPC Case Manager on 13 December 2017.


23. The Panel noted that between 16 November and 14 December 2017 the Registrant worked as a Social Worker while she was subject to the Interim Suspension Order. She was not subject to the substantive Suspension Order.


24. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was in breach of the Interim Suspension Order because she carried out duties as a Social Worker while she was subject to it.


25. The Panel next considered the gravity of the breach of the Suspension Order and Ms Mbah’s submission that the Registrant was dishonest.


26. The Panel noted that the Registrant was given information in the e-mail dated 16 November 2017 which may have given her the impression that the Suspension Order did not immediately take effect. If the Registrant had read the decision in full she would have seen that an Interim Suspension Order was also imposed to cover the appeal period. However, given the later documents, the Panel decided that it was likely that she had not read and fully understood this decision including the Interim Suspension Order. The Registrant’s intention was to appeal the decision of the HCPC and she instructed a solicitor in order to do so.


27. Although there was some evidence of a telephone conversation between the Registrant and an HCPC Case Manager on 13 December 2017 the Panel does not have a file note of that conversation. The Panel could not infer from the information provided by PD that the Registrant knew that she was suspended with immediate effect prior to 14 December 2017.


28. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s breach of the Suspension Order was a technical breach rather than a deliberate dishonest breach.


29. The Panel has no evidence as to whether or not the Registrant had informed her agency, who was her employer, about the fitness to practice proceedings and the outcome of those proceedings.


30. The Registrant was not frank and open with Devon Children’s Services, as the Panel might have expected. However, the Panel noted that Devon Children’s Services was not the Registrant’s employer and that her employer would be the party she should have notified first. In these circumstances, and on the evidence available, the Panel could not conclude that the Registrant was dishonest.


31. The Panel next considered the appropriate Order, taking into account its conclusion that the Registrant was technically, but not dishonestly, in breach of the Suspension Order.


32. The Panel noted that there has been no change from the decision of the previous panel in relation to remedial action, the Registrant’s insight, or the risk of repetition. The Panel decided that a Caution Order would not be sufficient to protect the public because there would be no restriction on the Registrant’s practice. Conditions of Practice would not be appropriate to address the dishonesty findings made by the Substantive Hearing Panel.


33. The Panel considered that the current Suspension Order provides sufficient protection for the public. The Panel considered that the risk of repetition of a breach of the Suspension Order was low because the previous breach was apparently technical rather than dishonest. It was also low because the Registrant has stated that she has retired from the profession.


34. The Panel considered the option of a Striking Off Order. This would have been the appropriate order if the Panel had decided that the Registrant’s breach of the Suspension Order was deliberate and dishonest. On the information provided to the Panel, it has not concluded that there was a dishonest breach.


35. The Panel therefore decided to confirm the current Suspension Order

Order

No information currently available

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Anne Margaret O'Connor

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
01/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended