Mrs Bernadette M Dinkin

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW49907

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 11:30 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

The following allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at a Substantive Hearing on 15-16 June 2017.


Whilst registered as a social worker;

1. On or around 26 August 2015, you used and/or allowed property belonging to Birmingham City Council(BCC) as collateral in obtaining a loan from a 'Cash Generator' shop in Coventry, namely;

a) a laptop and/or;

b) a mobile telephone

2. [Not Proved]

3. [Not Proved]

4. Your actions in paragraph 1- 2 were dishonest [Paragraph 2 Not Proved].

5. The matters set out in paragraphs 1- 4 constitute misconduct.

6. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.


The Panel at the substantive hearing found the following:


Facts proved: 1(a), 1(b), and 4 in respect of Paragraph 1.

Facts not proved: 2, 3, and 4 in respect of Paragraph 2.

Grounds: Misconduct


The panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be impaired and a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months was imposed as a sanction.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Proof of Service

1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter sent to the Registrant’s registered address informing her of the date, time and venue of today’s hearing.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

2. Ms Senior made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant with the Panel exercising its discretion. She referred the Panel to letters sent by post and email to the Registrant dated 2 May 2018 and 9 May 2018 giving details of the hearing today. The letter of 9 May 2018 was emailed to the Registrant the same day it was dated using an email address that the Registrant had used to contact the HCPC on 9 August 2017 providing notification of a change of postal address. The correspondence was sent to the postal address provided by the Registrant on 9 August 2017, the Registrar for the HCPC taking the decision to formally update the Registrant’s registered address.

3. Ms Senior submitted that the sending of this correspondence dated 9 May 2018 evidenced reasonable efforts to contact the Registrant in excess of the statutory requirements. In this correspondence the Registrant was reminded of today’s hearing and asked whether she intended to attend the hearing, or submit information. The Registrant has not responded to any correspondence in relation to this review.

4. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant was one to be exercised with the utmost care and caution, and it should consider a number of criteria in order to effect a just outcome. The HCPTS Practice Note ‘Proceeding in Absence’ was commended to them, as were the principles outlined in the cases of R v Jones (Anthony) [2003] 1 AC 1; [2002] UKHL 5 and GMC v Adeogba; GMC v Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162.

5. Having found good service, the Panel considered the criteria outlined in the case of Jones and applied them to the facts of this case. The Panel has decided that this hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. Its reasons were as follows:

a. The Registrant has not provided an explanation for her absence, nor asked for an adjournment. 

b. There is no evidence that the Registrant has engaged with this review process. Her last email contact to the HCPC was in August 2017. This suggests that her non-engagement and non-attendance is a voluntary absence and that the Registrant has chosen to waive her right to attend;

c. The Registrant has not chosen to be represented nor to make written submissions. Her non-engagement suggests that adjourning today would serve no useful purpose in terms of possible future engagement and is unlikely to secure her attendance at a future hearing;

d. The public interest would be impacted if the case were adjourned today, as this is a mandatory hearing and the Suspension Order expires on 14th July 2018, without action being taken today;

e. That while the Registrant would inevitably be disadvantaged by not being either present or represented at this hearing, this was outweighed by the public interest.

Proceeding in Private

6. Ms Senior indicated that material within this hearing would allude to personal matters relating to the Registrant.  While she did not intend to explore any of these details, should the Panel wish to ask relevant questions, she would ask that those parts of the proceedings be heard in private. The Panel determined that should it have any such questions, those parts of the proceedings would be held in private in order to protect the private life of the Registrant.


Background

7. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker and had been employed by Birmingham City Council (BCC) since 2007. From July 2013 the Registrant was employed as a Grade 5 Senior Social Worker in the Family Support and Safeguarding Kitts Green team. It was found proved that the Registrant had on/or around 26 August 2015 used a laptop and smart phone belonging to BCC as collateral in obtaining a loan from a ‘Cash Generator’ shop in Coventry.

8. The Panel found dishonesty, misconduct and impairment at the substantive hearing. The Panel found that the Registrant was impaired although it acknowledged that there was, “convincing evidence before the panel of the extenuating circumstances of duress that contributed to the misconduct.” The Registrant was made subject to a Suspension Order on 14 July 2017 for a period of 12 months.


Decision

9. Ms Senior provided the Panel with some background details, dating back to 2016/2017, relating to the Registrant’s circumstances.  These acknowledged the difficulties of the Registrant’s personal situation. Nonetheless, she confirmed that there had been no engagement or communication from the Registrant since her email of 9 August 2017.  Without current evidence demonstrating the Registrant’s insight and rehabilitation, she said that there is a risk of repetition and that the Registrant remains impaired.

10. In terms of sanction, Ms Senior said that given that the Registrant has been found to be dishonest there is an inherent difficulty in formulating conditions of practice to impose as an alternative sanction. Moreover, without being aware of the current situation and state of mind of the Registrant, it would not be possible to evaluate whether she was willing or able to abide by any conditions imposed.

11. Ms Senior submitted that a Suspension Order is still the most appropriate sanction although she suggested that this need not be for a long period and 6 to 9 months would suffice. A shorter period of time might focus the mind of the Registrant better than a longer period would.  A further period of suspension would provide additional time for the Registrant to become more settled after resolving her personal difficulties, and provide an opportunity to demonstrate remorse, remediation and insight.

12. Ms Senior did point out that the decision to impose any sanction was one for the Panel. She commended the HCPTS Indicative Sanctions Policy to the Panel.  She pointed out the possible sanctions that were available for consideration by the Panel, which included a Striking-Off Order, albeit whether the Panel considered that this was appropriate given that the Registrant’s communication of 9 August 2017, indicating that she was in a state of transition in her personal life.

13. The task of the Panel today is not to go behind the decision of the previous panels but to determine whether or not the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.  In making its decision today, the Panel took into account what the previous panel had found:

“27. The Panel first considered the evidence regarding the Registrant’s insight and any steps taken to remediate. The only evidence came from the Registrant’s admissions in her BCC investigation interview in November 2015 and Witness 1’s oral evidence as to the Registrant’s expressions of remorse and developing insight. The Panel recognised the Registrant‘s difficult personal situation at the time of the misconduct, but the Registrant had not engaged in this regulatory process nor demonstrated further insight. The Panel bore in mind that there are considerable difficulties in remedying dishonesty. There was therefore a real risk of repetition of the dishonest misconduct which could be a risk to service users and undermine public confidence in the profession of Social Work.

28. With regard to the public component, the Panel felt compelled to conclude that public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if a finding of current impairment was not made in the circumstances of this case given the lack of engagement of the Registrant and the absence of steps taken to remedy her dishonest misconduct.

29. The Panel therefore determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her proven past misconduct.”

14. The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC since the substantive hearing in June 2017, save for an email communication in August 2017. While the email does indicate that the Registrant is in a state of transition in her personal life, her misconduct is not addressed in that email.  There is no evidence that any changes have taken place regarding insight and remediation since the substantive hearing. The onus is on her to demonstrate how she has addressed the misconduct found proved.

15. The substantive hearing panel provided guidance to the Registrant as to what might assist a future reviewing panel. The Registrant has not responded. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that there remains a risk of repetition of the Registrant’s misconduct if she is allowed to practise without restriction. The Panel found that public confidence in the profession and the declaring of proper standards of conduct and performance demanded a finding of current impairment, given the lack of remediation and insight into the proven allegations.

16. The Panel acknowledged that the Registrant had undergone a very difficult period in her personal life. However, the lack of meaningful engagement by the Registrant since the substantive hearing, means that there is no evidence that failings, which the previous panel considered remediable, have in fact been remedied. Without evidence that circumstances have altered, and that the Registrant has insight into her misconduct and wishes to remedy it, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.

17. The Panel went on to consider what sanction, if any, was required.  It finds that the aggravating and mitigating conditions are today, as they were at the substantive final hearing:

“32. The Panel first considered what aggravating features were present in this case. Misusing employer’s property given to her to perform her work as a Social Worker as the Registrant had done, was a very serious matter. As both the laptop and the smart phone contained highly confidential information, albeit password protected, there had been a risk that that information could have been accessed by unauthorised persons. Dishonesty is always a serious matter for a professional person and strikes at the fundamental requirement of trustworthiness and integrity.

33. The Panel next considered what mitigating features were present. First, this was effectively isolated misconduct. Second, there was convincing evidence before the Panel of the extenuating circumstances of duress that contributed to the misconduct. Third, there is no evidence of repetition of dishonest behaviour. Fourth, there was evidence of some insight being gained by the Registrant during the BCC investigation and disciplinary process. Fifth, there was recent evidence that the Registrant was receiving assistance with her personal circumstances. Finally, this was the first occasion of the Registration [sic] being brought before her regulator during many years of practice as a Social Worker.”

18. The Panel considered that to impose no further action, or to impose a Caution Order would not be sufficient to address the wider public interest considerations, given that there remains a risk of repetition. A Conditions of Practice Order would neither be appropriate or workable; in circumstances where dishonesty has been found proved, the Registrant is not engaging with the HCPC and the Panel cannot be confident that she would comply with any conditions that could be formulated.

19. The Panel considered an extension of the current Suspension Order. A Suspension Order would provide protection for the public, while simultaneously permitting the Registrant additional time to engage with the HCPC. In view of the difficulties surrounding the Registrant’s personal situation the Panel considered this is a proportionate response when balancing the public interest with the Registrant’s interest.

20. The Panel did consider what the HCPC Indicative Sanction Policy said about Striking-Off Orders. Given the information that the Panel had about the Registrant’s circumstances, notwithstanding that the most recent update had been in August 2017, the Panel considered that a Striking-Off Order would be disproportionate.  While dishonesty was found proved, the panel at the substantive hearing had also found persuasive evidence of extenuating circumstances surrounding the misconduct which lead to its conclusion that the dishonesty in this case is remediable.

21. In considering the length of an order, the Panel took into account:

• the personal circumstances of the Registrant as indicated less than twelve months ago in August 2017;

• the fact that she self-referred to the HCPC in November 2015; and

• that she has been open in disclosing her personal circumstances.

22. The Panel determined that 12 months was the correct length to give the Registrant sufficient opportunity to engage with her Regulator. A period of less than 12 months is not considered to be a realistic period for the resolution of all the Registrant’s personal difficulties, although the Registrant is reminded that should her circumstances stabilise that she may ask for an early review.

23. Accordingly, the Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction is a Suspension Order for 12 months.

24. A future reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by:

• the Registrant’s personal attendance at the review;

• evidence of insight, including what she has learnt and what she would do differently in future;

• up to date testimonials and references in respect of the Registrant’s character; and/or

• information in respect of current employment whether paid or unpaid.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Bernadette M Dinkin for a further period of 12 months on the expiry of the existing Order.

Notes

The Order imposed today will apply from 14 July 2018.

This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 14 July 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Bernadette M Dinkin

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
26/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
01/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
15/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
25/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension