Ms Gordana Bjelic-Rados

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW67870

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 25/06/2018 End: 16:00 26/06/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

 

1. On or around 1 February 2017, provided an employment reference to Tempest Resourcing Social Work 2000 which you had amended and/or allowed to be amended by another individual, by:

i) amending the answer provided by Daniel Newbolt to the question, 'Reason for Leaving?';

ii) removing text provided by Daniel Newbolt in the section marked 'Additional Comments';

iii) amending the text answer provided by Daniel Newbolt in the section marked 'Would you re-employ?';

iv) removing the text provided by Daniel Newbolt in the section marked 'If NO please state reason why:'.

2. Your actions at paragraph 1 were dishonest.

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

4. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:


Service of the Notice of hearing:


1. The Panel determined that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing, dated 4 April 2018, in which the time, date and venue of this hearing was set out. The Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had posted this to the Registrant’s last known registered address.

 

Proceeding in Absence of the Registrant:


2. The Panel heard Ms Rangamuwa’s submission to proceed in the Registrant’s absence and saw the contents of the pro forma response form returned by the Registrant and dated 22 May 2018. In reaching its decision, the Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice, it exercised the principle of proportionality and it referred to the HCPC Practice note on Proceeding in Absence.

3. The Panel noted that the Registrant stated in her response form that she did not intend to attend this hearing and was not represented. She has made no application to adjourn the hearing. There are two HCPC witnesses ready to give evidence to this Panel. In the circumstances, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant has of her own volition decided not to attend this hearing and that any adjournment would not be likely to result in the Registrant’s attendance in any event. In addition, and in those circumstances, the Panel concluded that the HCPC’s interests in the expeditious disposal of this hearing, reflecting the wider public interest, should be upheld. Therefore, for these reasons, the Panel determined that it is fair and proportionate for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

 

Background:


4. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker with the HCPC. In 2014, she worked as an agency Social Worker in the safeguarding care planning teams at Northampton County Council (NCC). HCPC witness, DN, oversaw all the teams, but did not directly work with the Registrant. In that role at NCC the Registrant had been responsible for safeguarding, child protection and child in need work, including court work.

5. On 31 January 2017, the Registrant registered with a social work agency, Social Work 2000 (the Agency), in order for the Agency to facilititate her application for a role as a Social Worker in Norwich.    On 6 February 2017, the Registrant sent to the Agency a number of third party references relating to previous roles.

6. On 8 February 2017, DN received an email from the Agency stating that, on 6 February 2017, the Registrant had sent them a reference (attached to the email) purporting to be from DN about her work at NCC.  In the same email the Agency asked DN if he still agreed with the contents of the reference and whether he would be content for it to be used by the Agency in the recruitment process when promoting the Registrant for work.

7. DN was concerned that, on the reference submitted by the Agency that he had supposedly written, it stated that he would be willing to re-employ the Registrant, whereas he had a different recollection of events. He informed the Agency on 8 February 2017 that he could not confirm the reference as genuine until he had made further checks.

8. He did so, and subsequently obtained his original reference from the NCC IT department and sent it to the Agency on 14 March 2017.  In his email he stated that the reference the Agency sent to him (which had been supplied by the Registrant) had been altered in the Registrant’s favour, as follows:

(1) The following had been removed from the original reference “Gordana needs to develop in respect of her ability to recognise and act upon safeguarding and within her judgement on best interests of children vs parents and how this is communicated to other professionals.”

(2) In addition, there was now a tick against “would you re-employ” (her) under the “yes" section; this contrasted with DN’s actual reference, which did not contain a tick in either the yes or no section.  DN stated that he had explained in the section below (if “no” had been ticked) that it was “due to development needs as identified above.”

(3) Furthermore, DN clarified that the reason for her leaving had been “Notice given”, whereas the reference that the Registrant sent to the Agency stated “Contract ended.”  In his oral evidence DN explained that “notice given” meant that he had terminated the Registrant’s contract. 

9. The Agency referred the Registrant to the HCPC. The Registrant’s purported partner, Person A, contacted the HCPC by telephone at 10am on 23 March 2017 indicating that it was she, Person A, who had altered the reference deliberately in the Registrant’s favour without the Registrant knowing she had done so. She followed this up by sending to the HCPC an email to the same effect dated 23 March 2017 at 13.08 hrs. The Registrant emailed at 18.05 hrs on the same day stating that her “administrator”, Person A, had made the alterations to DN’s reference, without her knowledge. There has been no further information from the Registrant since, save for her Pro Forma response document dated 22 May 2018.   

10. The Registrant did not attend and was not represented.  The Registrant denied all the Particulars of Allegation in her Pro Forma response document, stating that “…as stated previously I did not have any awareness of this happening until after the event.”

11. The HCPC’s was represented by Ms Rangamuwa, Legal Assistant from Kingsley Napley.

12. The HCPC witnesses who were called to give evidence were:

• DN, then the manager of social worker teams at NCC and NM of the Agency. 

13. DN confirmed the contents of his witness statement and also indicated that the reason for not wishing to re-employ the Registrant at that time was his concerns about her cabilities, including her ability to prioritise the interests of children over those of their parents.  He had additional concerns regarding her ability to meet the standards required by NCC.  He explained that he had omitted to fill in anything for the column “Honesty and Integrity” on his original reference, due to his concerns about the Registrant’s safeguarding and communication skills, as well as her honesty and integrity as they affected her work performance in those respects. 

14. NM also confirmed the contents of her witness statement and stated that she had not had any contact with the Registrant.

15. The Panel also read the witness statements of the two remaining HCPC witnesses, CS, of the Agency and SC, of the HCPC.

 


Decisions:

Facts:

16. In reaching its decisions, the Panel took into account the written evidence in the bundle produced for this hearing which included the witness statements of CS and SC and the submissions from the Registrant.  In addition, the Panel took into account the oral evidence from DN and NM, and the submission from Ms Rangamuwa. The Panel also accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice.

17. The Panel found DN to be a credible, clear and consistent witness. He explained his evidence well and was of assistance to the Panel. The Panel also concluded that he was a fair witness, as he was careful not to be pejorative to the Registrant. In the Panel’s judgement, he was not a witness who displayed any bias against the Registrant.

18. The Panel found NM to be an honest and credible witness with no agenda against the Registrant and who readily admitted any limitations to her ability to give evidence, namely when she could not remember specific facts.  Due to her limited contact with the Registrant, the Panel concluded that her evidence was more marginal to the facts under scrutiny than, DN’s. 

19. The Panel gave some weight to the written evidence of CS, as she had been in direct contact with the Registrant on the telephone, by email and in person on 1, 2, 6 and 8 February 2017. She also produced as an exhibit (Exhibit 6), a timeline for the events, which provided the Panel with considerable clarity of how the events relating to the altered reference chronologically unfolded.

20. The Panel gave some weight to the written evidence of SC, as it described the events of 23 March 2017 involving the Registrant’s and Person A’s contact each with the HCPC, after it had commenced its investigation of the matter against the Registrant.

1: Proved overall:


21. For the reasons outlined in 1i), 1ii), 1iii) and 1iv) below, the Panel concluded that on or around 1 February 2017, the Registrant amended, and/or allowed to be amended by another individual, the relevant parts of DN’s original reference.


i): Proved:

22. The Panel accepted the evidence of DN as clear and consistent evidence that he had written a different set of words on his original reference for “Reason for Leaving” than those in the reference sent in to the Agency by the Registrant, and shown by the comparison between the two references, as exhibited in the bundle.

 

ii): Proved:

23. The Panel accepted the evidence of DN as clear and consistent evidence that the reference from the Registrant sent to the Agency had certain words removed when compared to DN’s original reference, as exhibited in the bundle, and confirmed by DN in his oral evidence.  

 

iii): Proved:

24. The Panel accepted the evidence of DN as clear and consistent evidence that he had omitted to tick either the “Yes” or the “No” in the section “Would you re-employ” in his original reference.  However, a comparison by the Panel and DN in his oral evidence between the two references as exhibited in the bundle, confirmed that the cross had been inserted under the “Yes” section in the reference sent to the Agency by the Registrant, indicating that he would be willing to re-employ her. 
 


iv): Proved:

25. The Panel accepted the evidence of DN as clear and consistent evidence that the reference from the Registrant sent to the Agency had certain words removed. When compared to DN’s original reference, as exhibited in the bundle, and confirmed by DN in his oral evidence.  

 

2; Proved:

26. The Panel considered it to be significant that the Registrant’s stated position was that she knew nothing of the alteration of DN’s original reference, (and therefore by inference accepted that the original reference was the one she had sent to the Agency).  Yet at no time from 2 to 8 February 2017, when the Registrant had several opportunities via email, telephone contact and face-to-face contact with CS, did she highlight the reason why she was given notice from NCC, or explain her shortfalls as identified in DN’s original reference.


27. In the Panel’s judgement, it was implausible that the Registrant would not have known the content of the references she had submitted to the Agency for a job application; a job she had wanted and the only one she had approached the Agency to obtain for her.  In the Panel’s opinion, the falsifications made by her, and if not by her, by another person acting on her behalf and with her knowledge, all concerned failings on her part. Those failings related to fundamental and essential working practices necessary for a safe and efficient Social Work practitioner. The failings went to the very heart of Social Worker fitness to practise.   The Panel concluded that the Registrant recognised that and had acted dishonestly in altering or arranging DN’s original reference to be altered. The Panel concluded that it was more likely than not that the Registrant’s motivation to deceive was to obtain employment for the role in Norwich.  

28. The Panel considered all alternative innocent, careless or negligent explanations for the falsification of the reference, including another person being responsible for it.  The Panel has no evidence, from the Registrant, that explains the falsification of DN’s original reference,  other than that explanation given in the emails from Person A and the Registrant, namely that Person A altered DN’s original reference without the Registrant’s knowledge.  There has been no clarification of the Registrant’s explanation from any live witness and the Panel preferred the factual evidence heard in this hearing from the HCPC witnesses, when balanced against the Registrant’s relatively brief and incomplete explanation.  Hence, for these reasons, the Panel rejected that there was any other innocent, careless or negligent explanation for the falsification of the reference.

29. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the communication from the Registrant and Person A took place at a time after the HCPC began its investigation of the falsified reference. The Registrant could have come forward at any time before this time to clarify why she had sent, or arranged to be sent, to the Agency the falsified reference.  The Agency had told her on 8 February 2017 that the reason for the termination of their professional involvement with her, and that this was due to issues with her references. She only offered her email explanation for the reference discrepancies when faced with her regulatory body commencing investigations into her fitness to practise.

30. For these reasons, the Panel has determined from the facts of the case found proved that the Registrant genuinely believed that a damaging reference provided by DN, if in its original form, would prevent her obtaining the job she desired at Norwich and this caused her to alter DN’s original reference and/or allow someone else to do so.  In the Panel’s judgement, this conduct was dishonest by the standards of ordinary, decent people. It involved active deception of others by falsification by the Registrant, or someone else acting on her behalf and with her knowledge, which, if the deception had been successful, could have led to the Registrant working in Norwich at a time when her capability to be a safe and effective practitioner had been put into doubt by an integrated and senior social work practitioner, DN, whose evidence the Panel has accepted.

31. Therefore, the Panel concluded that the actions found proved in Paragraph 1 of the Particulars of Allegation were dishonest.

 

Grounds: Misconduct:

32. The Panel concluded that the facts found proved, taken in the round, were serious. They involved the deliberate and planned deception, either by the Registrant herself falsifying a document, or by knowingly allowing another person to falsify that document, in order for her to obtain employment. The deception had the effect of inflating the Registrant’s capabilities to beyond what they were reported to be at the time.   It also served to conceal some fundamental failings in relation to her fitness to practise, hiding from view DN’s concerns relating to the Registrant’s ability to prioritise the needs of vulnerable children service users over those of their parents. In the Panel’s judgement, this deception could have had serious results had the Registrant been successful in obtaining the employment she was seeking in Norwich, potentially putting vulnerable service users at risk of harm.

33. The Panel has concluded that this is behaviour that is wholly unacceptable by a Social Worker in the position of trust essential to the role.  Furthermore, such behaviour brings the profession of social work into disrepute and invites public opprobrium. In the Panel’s judgement, the Registrant’s dishonest behaviour, acted out over a period of time, for personal gain to the Registrant, is conduct falling far short of the standards set by the profession and expected to be followed by professionals at all times.

34. For these reasons, the Panel has concluded that the following Standards have been breached by the Registrant’s conduct:


• Standard 9 of the 2016 HCPC’s Standards for Conduct. Performance and Ethics (the Standards):

Be honest and trustworthy


and specifically


• Standard 9.1 :  “You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.”

and

• Standard 9.2: “You must be honest about your experience, qualifications and skills.”

• Standard 2  of the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers “…be able to practise within a legal and ethical boundaries  of their profession”:

• and specifically, Standard 2.10: “understand what is required of them by the Health and Care Professions Council”

35. Therefore, for the reasons stated, the Panel concluded that the facts found proved amount to misconduct.

 

Impairment:


36. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was clearly impaired at the time of the events.  Although it considered that this was serious dishonest misconduct, it was capable of remediation, taking into account the Registrant’s blemish-free career until these events took place.  

37. If reflection and remorse is demonstrated by a practitioner, there may be a way that, although more difficult than in other types of cases, dishonesty can occasionally be remediated. However, in this case, there is nothing before the Panel from the Registrant that shows that she has considered, commenced or completed any such remediation, so as to prevent recurrence in the future.  In the Panel’s judgement, the Registrant has given the regulatory process, culminating in this hearing, no information to demonstrate that this conduct would not be repeated, and as a consequence would not pose a risk to the public in the future, or that public confidence would not be undermined.  Indeed, she has sought to distance herself from the act of falsifying the reference written by DN.  

38. For these reasons, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant has demonstrated no insight into her actions or the consequences of them. She has not reflected on the ramifications of obtaining employment using falsified references and the potential effects on the care, health and safety of service users, including vulnerable children. She has not reflected on the disapproval of the public and the profession when learning of such deception by a professional and she has shown no insight into how her dishonesty denigrates the entire profession in the eyes of the public.

39. In the Panel’s judgement, without insight and remediation there is a significant likelihood that the public will remain at risk of harm and public confidence will be undermined.

40. For these reasons, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the grounds of the misconduct found proved.


Decision on Sanction


41. The Panel heard the submission on sanction of Ms Rangamuwa. In reaching its decision on sanction the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and exercised the principle of proportionality. It also took into account the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.

42. The Panel were aware that any sanction should not be primarily punitive, although it may appear so, subjectively, to Registrants when reaching the top end of the scale. The purpose of sanction is not to punish practitioners for past misconduct, but is future action in the interests of public safety.

43. The Panel identified the following aggravating and mitigating factors:


Aggravating factors:

• The Registrant’s actions were dishonest;
• They involved a breach of trust of a former employer, a potential employer and the public at large;
• Her actions involved premeditation and organisation to set up and act out the deception;
• She attempted to involve another person in the dishonest acts;
• The Registrant’s dishonest acts were motivated by her own personal gain;
• She has demonstrated no insight into her actions and the consequences of them;
• She has not shown any remorse;
• Her dishonest misconduct had the potential to put the public at risk of harm;
• The Registrant’s dishonest acts revealed concern about certain aspects of her practice which were considered by her manager to fall below the standards expected of her at the time;
• The Registrant’s professional deficiencies, as ultimately revealed by the dishonesty, also had the potential to put the public at risk of harm;
• The Registrant has not engaged in this hearing, thus preventing her from putting forward a more robust explanation for her actions, and/or the actions of another person.

Mitigating factors:

• The Registrant has not been before her regulatory body before the events relating to this case;
• The Registrant had been described by DN as a reasonably able practitioner in some other professional areas of her job;
• There was no actual harm to any member of the public by reason of the Registrant’s misconduct.


44. The Panel first considered the options of taking no action, mediation or imposing a Caution Order.  It rejected these outcomes. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s dishonest acts were pre-planned and organised and, as such, were not at the lower end of the scale of dishonesty. Hence, in the Panel’s judgement, the option of a Caution Order would be excluded in this case on the grounds of the matters found proved being sufficiently serious to merit a higher level of sanction.

45. In any event, in the Panel’s opinion, if any of these options were to be imposed, they would not provide the necessary degree of monitoring and restriction that the Panel considered would be required in this case of serious dishonest misconduct. Whilst the misconduct involved dishonest attitudinal personal behaviour, the facts of the case also demonstrated that the Registrant had previously been identified as falling short of the standard required of her as a social worker in some important and fundamental aspects of practice. Such failings go to the heart of the protection of the public and, without checks and balances on the Registrant’s practice at this time, in the Panel’s judgement, the public would be put at risk of harm, and public confidence in the profession could be seriously undermined.

46. The Panel next considered imposing a Conditions of Practice Order and rejected this. The Registrant has chosen not to engage with this hearing, thus depriving the Panel of any means of knowing whether she has sufficient insight into her dishonest behaviour and insight into the failings within her practice, as well as any remediation to meet the challenge of the dishonest misconduct and the perceived substandard practice she had demonstrated to DN in 2014. Her attempt to involve another person in the falsification of DN’s reference and her denial of any knowledge of what had been done by that other person, in the Panel’s judgement, is clear evidence of her inability at this time to accept her failings, both personal and professional, and the high risk of repetition of this type of behaviour. Moreover, this denial has continued to present day, as evidenced by the Registrant’s comment on her 22 May 2018 Pro Forma response document. The Panel concluded that there is very little mitigating evidence to counter and alleviate the significant aggravating factors in this case. In the Panel’s opinion, with the Registrant in such persistent and continuing denial of any wrongdoing, the risk of harm to the public is a realistic issue. A Conditions of Practice Order, in those circumstances, would not be workable, enforceable or proportionate, as the Panel considered that the primary issue in this case is one of dishonesty, and no effective conditions could be formulated which would be achievable by this Registrant at this time.   Nor would they protect the public and uphold the wider public interest. 

47. The Panel next considered imposing a Suspension Order. The Panel considered the dishonesty displayed by the Registrant in this case to be serious and towards the higher end of the spectrum of dishonesty. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s misconduct has brought the profession into disrepute, would have put the public at risk if successful, and has undermined public confidence in the profession. The involvement of Person A clearly indicated to the Panel an organised plan to deceive by falsification DN’s reference in the Registrant’s favour. If successful, it could have had serious consequences for the health, safety and welfare of the public, as it related to the Registrant’s ability to provide safe and effective social work care. Thus, in the Panel’s judgement, this case not only concerned a deep attitudinal problem of the Registrant, who resorted to dishonest means to try to obtain a job, but it also revealed some underlying professional deficiencies identified in the original reference by DN. To that end, in the Panel’s judgement, the case has an increased potential risk to the public.   Therefore, the Panel considered that a Suspension Order would not be sufficient to protect the public, or to uphold public confidence in the profession, or in this regulatory process.

48. Therefore, the only remaining sanction is that of a Striking Off Order. For the reasons set out, the Panel determined that the only proportionate and appropriate sanction to impose in this case is that of a Striking Off Order, on the grounds of public protection and in the wider public interest.

 

 

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Gordana Bjelic – Rados from the Register.  

Notes

An Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months was

imposed to cover the appeal period. 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Gordana Bjelic-Rados

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
25/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off