Mrs Pauline Stidwill
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During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at North Yorkshire
County Council you:
1. In relation to Service User A:
a) Gave Service User A your mobile telephone number;
b) On or around 17 March 2015, whilst on leave, received a text message from Service User A indicating that he was "feeling really suicidal" or words to that effect, and:
i. Sent it to the office phone;
ii. Did not check that a member of staff had received the message;
iii. Did not contact Service User A;
iv. Not proved
v. Not proved
c) On or around 31 March 2015 did not discuss and/or make a record of discussing with Service User A:
i. Not proved
ii. the need for Service User A to contact the crisis team.
2. In relation to Service User B, in March 2015:
a) Not proved
b) Not proved
c) Not proved
3. In relation to Service User C:
a) On or around 13 March 2015, received an urgent referral and did not reallocate it before going on leave;
b) Did not adequately record meetings scheduled and/or held with Service
i. On or around 7th April 2015;
ii. On or around 13 April 2015;
c) Not proved
4. In relation to Service User D:
a) On or around 24 July 2014, received concerns from Service User D's mother that he was suicidal and:
i. Did not visit Service User D in a timely manner;
ii. Not proved
b) On or around 31 July 2014, visited Service User D's home, found the door locked and:
i. Did not contact and/or make a record of contacting Service User D on 1 August 2014 as planned;
ii. Not proved
iii. Did not escalate the matter to senior staff.
5. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 4 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
6. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of Service
1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been posted on 1 May 2018 by first class post to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).
Proceeding in Absence
2. The HCPC made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.
3. The Panel determined that it was fair, reasonable and in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence for the following reasons:
a) The Panel noted that the Registrant did not attend the substantive hearing in June 2017, nor did she attend the first review hearing in December 2017 and the HCPC has received no communication from her since. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and her right to participate in these proceedings.
b) There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that she would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this final hearing would serve no useful purpose.
c) The Panel recognised that there may be a disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to make submissions with regards to her current fitness to practise. However, the HCPC reminded the Registrant in a letter, dated 24 May 2018, of the information that may be of assistance at today’s review hearing and she has not taken up that opportunity. In these circumstances, as this is a mandatory review, the Registrant’s interests are outweighed by the strong public interest in ensuring that the hearing proceeds expeditiously.
4. The relevant background for the purposes of this review is set out below.
5. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. The Registrant commenced employment for North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) on 29 September 2003. She was initially employed as a support worker but became a Mental Health Social Worker from 22 March 2004.
6. In September 2014 a Serious Untoward Incident Review Report (SUI report) was completed by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust following the death of Service User D, who had been allocated to the Registrant. Subsequently, further issues were raised in relation to the Registrant’s practice concerning her management of cases relating to other service users. As a result of these concerns, on 16 April 2015 the Registrant was suspended.
7. A disciplinary investigation meeting took place on 10 June 2015 in which the Registrant was interviewed. Following the investigation, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the Registrant after which, on 8 March 2016, the Registrant was referred to the HCPC due to concerns in respect of the care she provided to a number of service users.
8. The Registrant did not attend the HCPC final hearing which took place on 12 – 16 June 2017. The panel found that the particulars found proved amounted to misconduct and subsequently imposed a 6 month Suspension Order. The final hearing panel outlined the information that would be of assistance at the review hearing.
9. The first review hearing took place on 1 December 2017. The Registrant did not attend. The first review panel imposed a further 6 month Suspension Order and stated:
‘In determining that the Registrant should be given a further opportunity to engage with the regulatory process the Panel concluded a Striking Off Order, at this point in time, would be disproportionate as there remains a possibility that the Registrant is willing and able to demonstrate remediation. In particular the Panel noted that the Registrant’s failings are capable of being remedied and that she previously had an unblemished career.
This Panel cannot bind a future panel but it is highly likely that if the Registrant fails to take advantage of this further opportunity to demonstrate that she has addressed the deficiencies in her practise the outcome may be a Striking Off Order’
10. The first review panel suggested that the next reviewing panel may be assisted by the following:
• The Registrant’s attendance in person or by telephone;
• Written evidence of reflection about what went wrong in connection with these incidents, together with how they could be avoided in the future;
• Written evidence of insight and remorse, particularly as to how her actions impacted upon others;
• Evidence that the Registrant has kept her skills and knowledge up to date, together with evidence of CPD, particularly in relation to risk assessment, risk management and record keeping;
• Evidence of the Registrant’s future intentions about practising as a social worker and details of her plans, if any, for such a return;
• Up to date and relevant testimonials (including from any current or previous line managers) and medical reports, if relevant;
• The Registrant’s continued engagement with the HCPC.
11. Ms Dudrah, on behalf of the HCPC, outlined the background circumstances and the history of this case. She referred the Panel to the information that the previous panel had suggested the Registrant may wish to provide to assist this reviewing panel. Ms Dudrah submitted that as the Registrant has not provided any information with regards to insight and remediation her current fitness to practice remains impaired. She invited the Panel to conclude that a Striking Off Order should be imposed.
12. In undertaking this review, the Panel took into account the hearing bundle and the submissions from Ms Dudrah, on behalf of the HCPC.
13. The Panel accepted and applied the advice it received from the Legal Assessor as to the proper approach it should adopt. In particular that:
• The purpose of the review is to consider the issue of impairment based on the previous panel’s findings of fact, the extent to which the Registrant has engaged with the regulatory process, the scope and level of her insight and the risk of repetition.
• In terms of whether her previous misconduct has been sufficiently and appropriately remedied, relevant factors include whether the Registrant:
(i) fully appreciates the gravity of the previous panel’s finding of impairment;
(ii) has maintained her skills and knowledge;
(iii) is likely to place service users at risk if she were to return to unrestricted practice.
• The Panel should have regard to the HCPTS Practice Note: Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired and must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:
(i) the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
(ii) the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
• It is only if the Panel determines that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, that the Panel should go on to consider sanction by applying the guidance as set out in the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and the principles of proportionality which require the Registrant’s interests to be balanced against the interests of the public.
14. The Panel noted that there has been no engagement from the Registrant at any stage during the oral hearing proceedings. As a consequence of the Registrant’s non-engagement there was no evidence before the Panel that she fully appreciates the gravity of the failings identified by the final hearing panel. In addition, there was no explanation as to how the Registrant would behave differently in the future and no assurance that the deficiencies in her practice have been remedied and would therefore not be repeated. In the absence of any insight and any steps she has taken towards remediation, the Panel concluded that there is a real risk of repetition.
15. In the absence of any positive evidence of insight and remediation, the Panel concluded that there has been no material change in circumstances, with regards to the risk to service users and the consequential impact on public trust and confidence. Members of the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a social worker working with vulnerable service users had failed to protect their interests. The Registrant’s conduct fell below the standard expected of a registered social worker and the Panel concluded that until the Registrant has remedied her wrongdoing, there remains an ongoing risk of harm. The Panel also concluded that a finding of no impairment would undermine the need to uphold the high standards expected of all registered social workers and public confidence in the HCPC as a professional regulator, given the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s previous conduct and behaviour.
16. Therefore, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.
17. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired the Panel went on to consider what sanction, if any, to impose.
18. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct to take no action on her registration would be inappropriate. Furthermore, it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.
19. The Panel went on to consider a Caution Order. As the Registrant has persistently not demonstrated any insight into her misconduct, provided no evidence of remediation and whilst the risk of repetition remains, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to protect the public and meet the wider public interest.
20. The Panel was unable to formulate any workable or measurable conditions. Given the Registrant’s total lack of engagement the Panel could have no confidence that she would comply with a Conditions of Practice Order.
21. The Panel next considered extending the current Suspension Order for a further period. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order would prevent the Registrant from practising during the extended suspension period, which would therefore protect the public and the wider public interest. However, the Registrant was forewarned by the first review panel that a Striking Off Order would be a realistic option at this review if the Registrant was unable or unwilling to demonstrate insight and remediation. For a third time the Registrant failed to take advantage of the opportunity that was presented to her or engage in any way at all and the Panel concluded that no useful purpose would be served by providing her with a further opportunity. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account paragraph 41 of the ISP which states:
‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option.’
22. Although the Panel noted that the Registrant’s misconduct related to four service users between July 2014 – April 2015, and was capable of being remedied, it was satisfied that she had exhausted all opportunities to demonstrate that she is fit to return to practise. The Panel was also satisfied that the Registrant’s repeated failure to demonstrate a willingness or ability to remedy her shortcomings indicated that she had no intention of doing so in the future.
23. The Panel took into account paragraph 48 of the ISP which states:
‘Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight [or] continuing problems... A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.’
24. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s repeated failure to address the serious concerns that have been identified was fundamentally incompatible with continued registration. Furthermore, the Panel was satisfied that there was no public interest in maintaining the Registrant’s name on the Register and subjecting her and the HCPC to a further review hearing when there is no indication that the Registrant has any intention of returning to practise or engaging with the fitness to practise procedures. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that no sanction lower than a Striking Off Order would be sufficient to protect the wider public interest.
25. The Panel acknowledged that a Striking Off Order was a sanction of last resort. However, the Panel was satisfied that removal from the register was the only means to protect service users and the wider public interest.
26. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the appropriate and proportionate sanction would be a Striking Off Order.
Order: That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Pauline Stidwill from the Register on the date this order comes into effect
History of Hearings for Mrs Pauline Stidwill
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|01/06/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Struck off|
|01/12/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Suspended|
|12/06/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|
|10/04/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Interim Order Review||Interim Suspension|