Mr Mark Jonathan Dunham
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By reason of your physical and/or mental health, your fitness to practice as a Social Worker is impaired.
Service of Notice
1. The notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant at his address as it appeared in the register on 8 May 2018. The notice contained the date, time and venue of today’s hearing.
2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and is satisfied that notice of today’s hearing has been served in accordance with Rule 6(1) of the Health Committee Rules 2003 (the “Rules”).
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
3. The Panel then went on to consider whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules. In doing so, it considered the submissions of Ms Simpson on behalf of the HCPC.
4. Ms Simpson submitted that the HCPC has taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant. She informed the Panel that no response had been received to her letter dated 23 May 2018, reminding the Registrant of today’s hearing. She submitted that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC, and that an adjournment would serve no useful purpose. She reminded the Panel that this was a mandatory review and there was a public interest in this matter being dealt with expeditiously.
5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He advised that, if the Panel is satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been made to notify the Registrant of the hearing, then the Panel had the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Legal Assessor referred the Panel to the case of GMC v Adeogba and Visvardis  EWCA Civ 162 and advised the Panel its primary objective is the protection of the public and of the public interest. In that regard, the case of Adeogba was clear that “where there is good reason not to proceed, the case should be adjourned; where there is not, however, it is only right that it should proceed”.
6. The Panel is required to ensure that fairness and justice were maintained when deciding whether or not to proceed in a Registrant’s absence.
7. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPC to notify the Registrant of the hearing.
8. The Panel was mindful to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant with great care and caution. The Panel took into consideration the HCPTS practice note entitled ‘Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant’. The Panel weighed its responsibility for public protection and the expeditious disposal of the case with the Registrant’s right to a fair hearing.
9. In reaching its decision, the Panel took into account the fact that the Registrant has not engaged with the process and that there is a public interest that this substantive order is reviewed before it expires.
10. In all the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself. Having weighed the public interest against the Registrant’s own interest, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
11. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Simpson. She outlined the background to the case and drew the Panel’s attention to the decision of the panel at the Final Hearing. This Allegation concerns the health condition of the Registrant and how it impacted on his ability to work as a Social Worker.
12. At the relevant time, the Registrant was employed by the Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (the employer) where he had worked as a Social Worker from 6 February 2006. He worked as a Youth Offending Team Officer, which involved him working with 10 to 18 year olds, assisting them through the criminal justice system. It also included attending police stations when he was on bail rota and assisting on the telephone with young people held by the police. This role also involved him attending court, as a court officer. It also included him working with families and completing comprehensive assessments of young offenders.
From 2013 to 2014, the Registrant underwent three lengthy periods of absence. The employer held a number of supervisions with the Registrant throughout 2013 and going into 2014, and he was made subject to a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) from 15 January 2014. The Registrant became very unwell and went off sick from 11 April 2014 until 23 September 2014. The PIP was revised in July 2014 and, again in December 2014, after his return to work following a prolonged sickness absence.
13. The supervisions had been, at first, two-weekly, then, weekly after his return to work in September 2014 and then, at his request, reduced back to two-weekly from November 2014.
14. Following a prolonged sickness absence, the employer arranged a phased return to work, after a meeting with the Registrant on 4 September 2014. This consisted of a reduced workload, which was to be built up over time.
15. On 11 December 2014, at a meeting, and confirmed by letter dated 18 December 2014, it was agreed that the Registrant’s Social Worker role was no longer suitable for him and internal medical redeployment was discussed and agreed. On 1 January 2015, the Registrant commenced work in a welfare rights post, for which he does not need a Social Worker qualification. The employer’s Human Resources Department stated that the Registrant seems to be operating well in that role.
16. On behalf of the HCPC, on 18 October 2016, Dr Garvey saw the Registrant and he subsequently provided a report dated 18 December 2016. It confirmed the health diagnoses and stated that, if the Registrant returned to his role as a Social Worker, he would struggle to meet all the requirements of his role. The Panel heard evidence from Dr Garvey and from Ms SD, a registered Social Worker, who was an Operational Manager with the employer.
17. The HCPC relied on the facts set out above, to bring the allegation that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of his health condition. The HCPC further submitted that, since 25 August 2016, there were no entries in the Registrant’s medical records relating to his health condition, which suggested that, having left his Social Worker role, he was managing his health condition better.
18. Ms Simpson submitted that the Registrant’s condition was an on-going condition, and the absence of further information or evidence as to how the Registrant was managing his condition meant that the risk to the public remained if he practised as a Social Worker.
19. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that its purpose today was to conduct a comprehensive appraisal of the Registrant to determine if he is fit to return to unrestricted practice. Its role is not to conduct a rehearing of the allegations nor is it to go behind the previous findings. He advised that in carrying out this assessment, the Panel must exercise its own independent judgment.
20. He reminded the Panel that as this is a health case, the Panel is bound by Article 29(6) and the power to make a ‘Striking-off’ order is not available today, as the Registrant’s registration has not been suspended nor been subjected to conditions for a period of two years.
21. He advised the Panel that it should bear in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality and have regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy document issued by the HCPC. He reminded the Panel that any order that it makes under Article 30 should not be punitive in purpose, and that it should be the least restrictive order that would suffice to protect the public and/or is otherwise in the public interest.
22. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into consideration all the documentation before it. In particular, it noted the following factors:
(a) the lack of engagement of the Registrant with the process and the absence of evidence or information regarding his current situation;
(b) the previous Panel’s assessment of the medical evidence from Dr Garvey;
(c) the previous steps taken to address difficulties presented by the Registrant’s medical condition, in order to assist him in his social work role;
(d) the lack of any cogent medical evidence to show that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was no longer impaired by reason of his medical condition; and
(e) the relapsing/recurring nature of his medical condition.
23. The Panel was aware that the previous panel determined that the Registrant had insight into his medical condition, as demonstrated when he indicated that he did not feel he would ever be able to carry out the role of a Social Worker, as the stress of the role was the main trigger for his medical condition. In the light of the above, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired by reason of his health.
24. The Panel then went on to consider what action to take today. The Panel took into account the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy document and considered its powers under Article 30(1).
25. The Panel first considered taking no further action and allowing the Order to lapse upon expiry. The Panel determined that this was not appropriate, as the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired today.
26. The Panel went on to consider whether to impose a Caution Order upon the expiry of the current order. The Panel determined that the imposition of a Caution Order upon expiry of the current order is not the appropriate action to take today, as this would not restrict the Registrant’s practice and would not be sufficient to protect the public.
27. The Panel also considered whether to impose a Conditions of Practice Order but concluded that it could not formulate adequate conditions that would properly address the heart of problem, which in this case, appears to be the normal stresses associated with the role of a Social Worker. Further, the Panel has not been provided with information that the Registrant was able or willing to comply with conditions.
28. The Panel then considered imposing a further period of suspension and determined that this was the appropriate action to be taken today in light of the circumstances of the case. The Panel determined that a further Suspension Order for a period of 12 months be imposed upon the expiry of the current order. This will give the Registrant a further opportunity to engage with the process and provide up to date evidence of his health condition and how he is managing this. In addition, a review panel will be assisted by a reflective piece on how he would manage his condition in the future should it recur, including any coping strategies for any triggers identified, so as to demonstrate potential for safe and effective practice, and any evidence of paid or unpaid work, whether related to Social Work or not, with any references and testimonials.
29. The Panel noted that there was some indication that the Registrant no longer wished to practise as a Social Worker and that at the time of the final hearing he appeared to be working without further issues in a role outside of social work. If that position remains unchanged, the Registrant might wish to give consideration to whether he should apply under the Voluntary Removal process for his name to be removed from the register by agreement.
Order: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mark Jonathan Dunham for a further period of 12 months upon the expiry of the existing order.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 13 July 2019.