Ms Rhoda Donkor

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW105928

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 20/06/2018 End: 16:00 22/06/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

(As amended on day 1 of the hearing 20 June 2018)

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed by Hampshire County Council between 29 February 2016 and 20 January 2017:

1. Following receipt of an email from another team at the Council dated 4 August 2016, which raised concerns in relation to Service User A being denied access to visit his mother, you:

a) Did not respond to that email;

b) Did not put the case of Service User A's mother into the duty workflow system.

c) Did not discuss the matter with management staff and/or seek advice until 11 October 2016.

d) Did not ensure the email was put on Service User A's mother's file.

2. In relation to Service User B, you:

a) On or around 9 August 2016, following concerns reported by Service User B's granddaughter:

i. Did not record your case note relating to the call with Service User B's granddaughter as a safeguarding concern and/or did not record the information on the safeguarding module.
ii. Did not discuss the matter with management staff or a senior social worker.

b) Did not complete the provision request until 5 October 2016

3. In relation to Service User E, you:

a) Did not complete and/or record any contact with Service User E with regard to setting up a direct debit following queries raised by the finance team in August 2016.

b) Did not respond to an email from the finance department dated 30 August 2016.

c) Did not record your review meeting with Service User E on 27 September 2016 at all, or in a timely manner.

4. In relation to Service User F, you:

a) On 25 October 2016, incorrectly recorded that the service user had refused an assessment.

b) On 3 November 2016, did not promptly record on the system that the service user had been found safe.

5. In relation to Service User G, following a telephone call with Service User G's husband on 24 October 2016, during which he informed you of a safeguarding concern, you:

a) Did not record the information on the safeguarding module.

b) Did not index the original request from Service User G's husband on the system.

c) Did not put the case in the duty workflow system.

d) Did not promptly inform a team manager or senior social worker of the safeguarding concern.

e) Did not share and/or record sharing the safeguarding concern with Service User G's General Practitioner.

6. The matters described in paragraphs 1 - 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service of Notice

1. The Panel had sight of information that Notice of today’s hearing was sent to the Registrant’s address on the register by first class post on 29 March 2018. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was satisfied that service had been effected in accordance with the Rules.

Proceeding in Absence

2.Ms Mond-Wedd, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She referred to a letter sent by the Registrant to the HCPTS dated 13 May 2018 in which the Registrant stated that she will not be in attendance, and attaching written representations. The Panel also read the Registrant’s “Response Pro-Forma and Pre Hearing Information Form” (“Response Form”) in which the Registrant ticked a box to confirm that she was not planning to attend the hearing.
 
3.The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was satisfied from the Registrant’s responses that she had voluntarily waived her right to attend. The Panel took into account that the Registrant has not applied for an adjournment and was of the view that an adjournment was unlikely to secure her absence in the future. The Panel also took into account that the Registrant had made written submissions, and this addressed to some degree the potential disadvantage to the Registrant in proceeding today. In all the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the public interest in expeditiously hearing this case should be given effect, particularly bearing in mind that an HCPC witness was in attendance to give evidence. The Panel was satisfied that it was in the interests of justice, as well as the public interest, to proceed today.

Application to amend the Allegation

4. Ms Mond-Wedd applied to amend the Allegation. She referred to a letter sent by the HCPC to the Registrant dated 13 February 2018 which gave notice of the intention of the HCPC to apply to amend the Allegation at the start of this hearing, and which provided a copy of the original Allegation, as well as the proposed new Allegation. Ms Mond-Wedd submitted that it is clear that the Registrant received this letter because her letter dated 13 May 2018 enclosing her representations and her Response Form was in response to the HCPC letter. As well as having given the Registrant notice of the application to amend, to which the Registrant did not object, Ms Mond-Wedd also submitted that the amendments do not change the nature of the application but more accurately reflect the evidence.
 
5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel decided to allow the application. In coming to this decision the Panel took into account that the Registrant has had notice of the application for over 4 months, and in her letter of 13 May 2018 she did not object. In addition, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant would not be caused any prejudice by the amendments because they did not alter the fundamental nature of the Particulars. The Panel also took into account that the Registrant, in her Response Form, admitted the factual particulars, ostensibly of the original Allegation, which did not differ to any substantial degree from the proposed amendments. The Panel therefore decided that it was fair to the Registrant and in the interests of justice to allow the application.

Background

6. The Registrant is a registered social worker. At the material time, the Registrant was employed as an Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (“AYSE”) Social Worker with Hampshire County Council (“the Council”) between February 2016 and January 2017.
 
7. On 14 November 2016, the Registrant’s Line Manager made a referral to the HCPC following an incident in which the Registrant allegedly failed to recognise a safeguarding concern in respect of Service User G. Service User G’s carer had called Adult Service and the Registrant had responded to this call. Service User G’s carer had stated that he was not coping and felt he might seriously harm Service User G. There was a concern that the Registrant did not recognise the urgency of this alert and instead chose to wait until the following day to raise this with her Manager.

8. Further concerns raised with the Registrant throughout her ASYE year were also referred in respect of her alleged failure to recognise and/ or act on safeguarding concerns received by the Council in respect of a number of service users. There were also concerns relating to poor record-keeping and failures to undertake case/ administrative tasks despite significant support, training and supervision being given to the Registrant. 

Decision on Facts

9. The Panel was mindful that the burden of proof rests entirely on the HCPC to the civil standard namely the balance of probabilities.

10. The Panel heard live evidence from Ms 1, the Registrant’s direct line manager at the Council, who provided a witness statement dated 9 March 2018 exhibiting a number of documents. The Panel was of the view that she was a clear, credible and balanced witness, and the reasons for this assessment are as follows:

• Ms 1 gave her evidence in a considered and measured manner, and stated when she did not know an answer to a question.

• Ms 1 was knowledgeable about the Registrant’s cases, indicating she had spent a considerable amount of time with the Registrant in supervision and additionally, the Panel also noted that on several occasions Ms 1 was able to answer questions about cases without referring to documents.

• The Panel also got a clear sense from Ms 1 that she had wanted the Registrant to develop when giving her explanations of the support which she had given her.

• The Panel noted that she told the Panel she was “saddened” when it was put to her that the Registrant had found her difficult to approach and said she had always encouraged staff to seek support from other managers if they preferred.

11. The Panel noted that the Registrant in the Response Form admitted all of the factual particulars. This response was to the letter from the HCPC dated 13 February 2018 which enclosed the Allegation as it existed then, with an indication of an intention to amend, and a copy of the amended Allegation attached, which was the subject of the application as set out above. Although it is not clear, the Panel took the Registrant’s admissions to be to the original unamended Allegation which had not yet been amended. Most of the original Allegations have been amended, and therefore out of an abundance of caution, the Panel decided to proceed in the normal way in that it must consider the HCPC evidence and come to factual findings on each Particular, taking into account any admissions by the Registrant when it was clear what was being admitted. The Panel considered the written submissions of the Registrant dated 13 February 2018. The Panel drew no adverse inference from the Registrant’s absence when deciding on the facts.

The Stem of the Allegation

12. The Panel took into account the witness statement and oral evidence of Ms 1 which confirmed that the Registrant was employed by the Council between 29 February 2016 and 20 January 2017.

13. The Panel therefore found the stem proved.

Particular 1 (a)

14. The Panel considered paras. 26-30 of Ms 1’s witness statement which referred to an email dated 4 August 2016 sent by the Learning and Disability Service to the Registrant which raised concerns that Service User A was being denied access to visit his mother. Ms 1 exhibited the email which the Panel read. Ms 1 confirmed that it was not until 11 October 2016, when the Registrant had received a follow up email, that the Registrant raised the matter with Ms 1 and that the Registrant told her that she did not do anything in response to the email. 

15. The Panel noted the Registrant’s submissions in which she admitted she had not seen the original email, dated 4 August 2016 and therefore had not responded.

16. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 1 (b)

17. The Panel considered paras. 31-34 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence, which confirmed that the Registrant did not put the case of Service User A’s mother into the duty workflow system.
 
18. The Panel noted the Registrant’s submissions in which she admitted she had not seen the original email, dated 4 August 2016 and therefore had not responded and makes no reference to any steps taken to put the case into the duty workflow system.

19. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 1 (c)

20. The Panel took into account paras. 28 and 29 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence in which she stated that it was not until 11 October 2016 that the Registrant told her that she had received a follow up email as she had not responded to the original email of 4 August 2016. Ms 1’s evidence was that the Registrant had done nothing to escalate the email until this date. The Panel read the follow up email dated 11 October 2016 which instigated the Registrant’s action conversation with Ms 1 on that date.

21. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s submissions which refers to a conversation with Ms 1 about the issue, but gives no date. The Panel also noted that this Particular remained unamended and that the Registrant’s admission in her Response Form can be taken to be in respect of this Particular as currently worded.

22. The Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 1 (d)

23. The Panel took into account para. 31 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence, which made clear that the Registrant did not ensure that the email received from the Learning Disability Service on 4 August 2016 was put on Service User A’s mother’s file, so that no party was aware that the case required further work.

24. The Registrant’s submissions do not address this particular specifically.

25. On the basis of Ms 1’s evidence, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 2 (a) (i)

26. The Panel took into account paras. 36-38, 41 and 45 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence. Ms 1 stated that on or around 9 August 2016, in a telephone call, Service User B’s granddaughter alerted her to her concern that nurses were repeatedly attempting to give Service User B the wrong medication. Ms 1 stated that that the Registrant did not record her case note relating to the call as a safeguarding concern and also did not record the information on the safeguarding module.

27. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s submissions which make no reference to her recording her case note of the call as a safeguarding concern or recording the information on the safeguarding module.

28. On the basis of Ms 1’s evidence, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 2 (a) (ii)

29. Paras.39-40, 42, 44-5 of Ms 1’s witness statement and her oral evidence, make clear that the Registrant did not at any time discuss the matter with management staff or a senior social worker. In this regard, the Panel also read a note of the supervision meeting between Ms 1 and the Registrant in respect of the manner in which the Registrant dealt with the telephone call, and Ms 1 records they discussed that in respect to Service User B that a safeguarding alert had been disclosed to the Registrant and that she had taken no action,  and that Ms 1 emphasised to the Registrant that she should always consult with a manager regarding safeguarding disclosures.

30. The Panel considered the Registrant’s submissions which refer to steps she took to contact the nursing home to gather further information, as well as a future intention to visit the nursing home to investigate. However, she makes no reference to discussing the matter with a manager or a senior social worker.

31. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 2 (b)

32. The Panel took into account paras 46-48 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence. Ms 1 stated that on 9 August 2016 she reminded the Registrant in a supervision meeting to ensure a provision request was completed for Service User B as soon as possible, and the Panel read Ms 1’s note of that supervision meeting dated 9 August 2016 which confirmed this instruction. Ms 1 explained that when care is “commissioned”, a “provision” is the computer record that enables a provider to be paid and a client to be billed. Ms 1’s evidence was that the Registrant did not complete the provision request until 5 October 2016. In addition, the Panel saw a case note made by the Registrant dated 5 October 2016 referring to a telephone call with Service User B’s granddaughter of the same date which states that the Registrant confirmed that she had “made a mistake and not had her provision put on the system.”  

33. The Panel also noted that this Particular remained unamended and that the Registrant’s admission in her Response Form can be taken to be in respect of this Particular as currently worded.

34. On the basis of all the above, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 3 (a)

35. The Panel considered paras. 49 - 57 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence. Ms 1 stated that on 14 July 2016 the Registrant was allocated the case of Service User E who received care services from the Council. Ms 1 further stated that in August 2016 Service User E received a bill from the Council for a significant sum of money which caused her some distress and she contacted the Council’s finance department to check if the amount was correct. On 30 August 2016 the finance department forwarded the query to the Adults Health and Care Team inbox, and the email was forwarded to the Registrant. Ms 1 stated that the Registrant should have visited Service User E to discuss and set up a direct form following the raising of the financial issue by the finance department. Ms 1’s evidence was that the Registrant did not do so, and Ms 1 expected that she should have done so. The Panel examined the case notes of the Registrant in respect of Service User E and found no evidence that she met with Service User E in this regard.

36. The Registrant did not address this Particular in her submissions.

37. On the basis of the evidence, the Panel found this Particular proved in that the Registrant did not set up contact with Service User E.

Particular 3 (b)

38. Para 54 of Ms 1’s witness statement stated that on 12 September 2016 the finance department followed up their initial email to which they had received no response. The Panel read this email as well as others in an email chain. In response to the follow up email from the finance team, Ms 1 replied, copying the Registrant into her reply, apologised that they had not received a response, and directing the Registrant to reply. On the same date, the Registrant replied, apologising for the late reply.

39. The Registrant did not address this Particular in her submissions.

40. While the Registrant eventually replied to the follow up email after being prompted by Ms 1, the Panel was satisfied that she did not respond to the email from the finance department dated 30 August 2016.

41. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 3 (c)

42. The Panel took into account paras 49 and 58-60 of Ms 1’s witness statement, as well as her oral evidence. Ms 1’s evidence was that the Registrant conducted a review meeting with Service User E on 27 September 2016. When questioned when giving her oral evidence about how she knew that the meeting had taken place, she stated that the review meeting was logged in the Registrant’s Outlook folder and that if it had not taken place the Caring Hands Team would have telephoned the office. The Panel also read Ms 1’s note of a supervision meeting with the Registrant dated 3 October 2016 in which Ms 1 recorded in respect of Service User E that “review undertaken; to be recorded…”

43. The Registrant did not address this Particular in her submissions.

44. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant did not record the review meeting at all, and therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 4 (a)

45. The Panel had regard to paras, 62-65 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence. Ms 1 stated that the Registrant recorded that Service User F had refused an assessment, and the Panel saw a “duty note” dated 25 October 2016 made by the Registrant that she had called the housing officer for Service User E and left a message, and she also recorded that Service User E “had refused an assessment and is deemed to have the mental capacity to do so and therefore there is not much adult services can do”.

46. Ms 1’s evidence, both in her witness statement and orally, was that she had concerns about the accuracy of the Registrant’s statement that Service User F had refused an assessment, when in reality he had not responded to one letter written to him. Ms 1’s evidence was that when she discussed her concerns about this with the Registrant, the Registrant was apologetic and was concerned that she had made an error in judgment.

47. The Panel noted that this Particular remained unamended and that the Registrant’s admission in her Response Form can be taken to be in respect of this Particular as currently worded.

48. On the basis of all the above, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 4 (b)

49. The Panel considered paras 66-70 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence. On 3 November 2016 a housing officer had raised concerns about Service User F who could not be heard within his property and was not responding to attempts to speak to him.

50. The Registrant received confirmation that Service User F had been found safe and well by email from the housing officer on 3 November 2016 at 15.26 hrs, and the Panel had sight of that email. The Panel read a reply from the Registrant by email on 3 November 2016 at 15.43 hrs which stated “[t]thank goodness he is okay”.  However, Ms 1’s evidence was that this reply was from her personal email address which could not be read by her colleagues. The Registrant failed to record this in a note on the system until 4 November 2016 at 14.59 hrs, following an instruction from Ms 1 during a supervision at around 9 am on 4 November 2016. The Panel carefully considered whether the Registrant’s eventual record was done “promptly” and decided that this must be considered in the context of the circumstances, including the need for the action, taking into account the risks and ramifications involved. The Panel took into account para. 70 of Ms 1’s witness statement as follows:

“Service User F could have been in urgent need of support. I had to intervene to ensure that this follow up occurred. This could have caused her colleagues, other departments such as the Police, and the client unnecessary action and distress if it had been perceived that Service User F’s whereabouts were unknown, as the file indicated before [the Registrant] updated it”.

51. The Panel decided that in the context of the ramifications for colleagues, other agencies and the client himself, the Registrant’s record almost 24 hours after being informed that Service User F had been found, was not done “promptly”.

52. The Registrant did not address this Particular in her submissions. The Panel noted that this Particular had only been amended in a minor manner, and that the substance remained essentially the same. The Panel was therefore of the view that the Registrant’s admission in her Response Form can be taken to be in respect of this Particular as currently worded.

53. On the basis of all the above, the Panel found this Particular proved

Particular 5 (a)

54. The Panel considered paras 72- 74 and 77 of Ms 1’s witness statement, as well as her oral evidence. Ms 1 stated that on 24 October 2016, the Registrant spoke to Service User G’s husband on the telephone. The Registrant recorded this conversation in a note on that date which the Panel has read. The Registrant recorded Service User G’s husband as stating that “he has had enough of his wife and he is worried about really harming her”. He is also recorded to have stated that he “will pick up the hammer one day and mash her head in”. The Registrant also recorded what would make him feel better and he replied ‘for her to be ‘six-feet under’. Ms 1’s evidence was that this as a safeguarding concern and that the Registrant did not record this information on the safeguarding module.

55. In her submissions the Registrant explained her actions but also admitted that she made some mistakes regarding the case.

56. On the basis of Ms 1’s evidence the Panel was satisfied that this Particular is proved.

Particular 5 (b)

57. The Panel took into account para. 77 of Ms 1’s witness statement which stated that the Registrant failed to index the original phone call from Service User G’s husband to the system. As such, there was no record of it and other colleagues working on the case would not have a full picture upon which to base decision-making.

58. The Panel noted that this Particular had only been amended in a minor manner, and that the substance remained essentially the same. The Panel was therefore of the view that the Registrant’s admission in her Response Form can be taken to be in respect of this Particular as currently worded.

59. On the basis of all the above, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 5 (c)

60. The Panel noted para. 78 of Ms 1’s witness statement which made clear that the Registrant did not put the case in the duty workflow, the purpose of which was that other colleagues working on duty would be aware that the case required action.

61. The Panel noted that this Particular had not been amended. The Panel was therefore of the view that the Registrant’s admission in her Response Form can be taken to be in respect of this Particular as currently worded.

62. On the basis of all the above, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 5 (d)

63. The Panel took into account paras. 74-75 and 79 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence. Ms 1’s evidence was that the Registrant was expected to recognise that a serious safeguarding concern had been raised and discussed it with either a team manager or a senior social worker. Instead, the Registrant waited 24 hours before advising her, and did not recognise that this information could not wait 24 hours because there was, at worst, a threat to kill. Ms 1 stated that the Registrant could raise the matter with any social work manager or senior practitioner.

64. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s submissions to the effect that at certain times during the conversation with Service User G’s husband he retracted his comments stating that he would not really hurt Service User G. She also stated that at the time Ms 1 was in a meeting and the other team manager was not in the office.

65. In the Registrant’s note of the conversation there is no suggestion that Service User G’s husband was retracting his comments, and the Panel preferred to rely on this document, rather than the submissions, as it was made contemporaneously. In light of the comments made by Service User G’s husband, and the context of his expressions that he might seriously harm his wife, the Panel decided that waiting until the next day to inform Ms 1 was not acting “promptly”, a concept which had to be assessed in the context of the circumstances and risks arising out of the safeguarding concern, namely an indication that serious harm would be caused to Service User G. Further, the Registrant had access to a number of other senior members of staff to inform.

66. The Panel therefore found this Particular proved.

Particular 5 (e)

67. Para. 76 of Ms 1’s witness statement as well as her oral evidence made clear that while the Registrant contacted Service User G’s GP to discuss medication, as recorded on Service User G’s file, she did not share the safeguarding concern with the GP. The Panel read this note by the Registrant of the telephone call to the GP practice which states that the purpose of the call was to request for the GP to complete a medication review. There is no reference to the safeguarding concern.   Ms 1’s evidence was that this should have been shared with the GP on the day of receiving the information but it was not. Ms 1’s evidence was that it was part of basic safeguarding training that relevant safeguarding alerts are shared with relevant professionals. Ms 1’s evidence was that the Registrant told her that she did not share the information with the GP.

68. In her submissions the Registrant stated that the way that Service User G’s husband described his wife’s behaviour seemed more of a “mental issue” which is what led her to seek a medication review from her GP. She does not deny that she did not share the safeguarding concern with the GP.

69. On the basis of Ms 1’s evidence, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Decision on Grounds

70. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Mond-Wedd that it was open to the Panel to find the facts found proved were either a lack of competence or misconduct. Ms Mond-Wedd referred to a number of Standards contained in the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics 2016 and the HCPC’s Standards of proficiency for Social Workers 2012. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to the cases of Roylance v GMC (No. 2) [2000] 1AC 311, Spencer v GOC [2012] EWHC 3147; Shaw v GOC [2015] EWHC 2721. 

71. The Panel was aware that whether the facts found proved amount to misconduct or a lack of competence is a matter for its own independent judgment.

72. The Panel took into account that lack of competence connotes a standard of professional performance which is unacceptably low and which in general has been demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of work. The Panel took into account that the Registrant was a newly qualified social work undertaking her ASYE year, which involved learning and training as part of the support offered. When assessing lack of competence this is to be judged against the standard which is to be reasonably expected of a social worker in an AYSE year. The Panel was satisfied that in principle there was a fair sample of the Registrant’s work before it, considering that she had a reduced work load due to her ASYE status.

73. With regard to misconduct, the Panel was mindful that this must be a sufficiently serious falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances, and was aware that recent cases point to a degree of moral opprobrium as a feature of misconduct.

74. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant breached the following standards:

HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2016)

2.6 - You must share relevant information, where appropriate, with
Colleagues involved in the care, treatment or other services
provided to a service user;

6.1 - You must take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm to
service users, carers and colleagues as far as possible;

6.2 - You must not do anything, or allow someone else to do anything,
which could put the health or safety of a service user, carer or
colleague at unacceptable risk;

7.1 - You must report any concerns about the safety or well-being of
service users promptly and appropriately;

7.5 - You must follow up concerns you have reported and, if necessary,
escalate them;

7.6 - You must acknowledge and act on concerns raised to you,
investigating, escalating or dealing with those concerns where it is
appropriate for you to do so;

10.1 - You must keep full, clear, and accurate records for everyone you
care for, treat, or provide other services to;

10.2 - You must complete all records promptly and as soon as possible
after providing care, treatment or other services;

HCPC Social Workers Standards of Proficiency (2012)

1.1 - know the limits of their practice and when to seek advice or refer
to another professional;

1.3 - be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and
respond appropriately;

1.5 -  be able to recognise signs of harm, abuse and neglect and know
how to respond appropriately;

4.1 -  be able to assess a situation, determine its nature and severity and call upon the required knowledge and experience to deal with it;

8.2 - be able to demonstrate effective and appropriate skills in
communicating advice, instruction, information and professional
opinion to colleagues, service users and carers;

8.4 - understand how communication skills affect the assessment of
and engagement with service users and carers;

8.9 - be able to engage in inter-professional and inter-agency
communication;

9.1 - understand the need to build and sustain professional
relationships with service users, carers and colleagues as both an
autonomous practitioner and collaboratively with others;

10.1 - be able to keep accurate, comprehensive and comprehensible
records in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols
and guidelines

10.2 - recognise the need to manage records and all other information in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines

12.1 -  be able to use supervision to support and enhance the quality of
their social work practice

15.1 - understand the need to maintain the safety of service users,
carers and colleagues.

75. The Panel was aware that a breach of standards does not in itself mean that lack of competence or misconduct should be found, because these are matters for the Panel’s judgment taking into account the circumstances before it.

Particular 1 (a) – (d)

76. The Panel noted that the lack of response to the email in Particular 1 (a) led to the series of matters set out in Particular 1 (b) – (c). The Panel took into account the Registrant’s submission that she had not seen the email dated 4 August 2016 and that was why she had not responded. The Panel considered it relevant that the Registrant had replied regarding the issue on the previous day, as seen from her email dated 3 August 2016. She ended her email by stating that she had discussed the matter with her manager who advised that no action was required from adult service, and the email ended by stating that the matter will be closed, but if there were any queries, the duty line could be contacted.  It is apparent from her email that this was not an ongoing case, and as confirmed by Ms 1’s evidence she responded to it as part of her work as a the “duty” social worker.

77. In the context of the action that the Registrant did take, the Panel was willing to accept the Registrant’s explanation that it was an oversight, ‘an honest mistake’, particularly because the lack of response was to only one email with regard to Service User A. While the Registrant’s oversight meant led to the inaction as set out in Particular 1 (b) - (d), for the reasons set out, the Panel was not satisfied that not responding to the email received the following day was either a lack of competence or sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

Particulars 2 (a) (i) – (ii)

78. With regard to Service User B, the Panel took into account the evidence of Ms 1 contained in her witness statement and her “Managing Performance” report. Ms 1 states that she expected the Registrant to recognise the concern raised as a safeguarding issue, having received safeguarding awareness training on 19 May 2016 and safeguarding recording training on 27 June 2016, as well as having been made aware of the Council’s Safeguarding Policy during her induction.

79. Ms 1’s evidence was that she expected the Registrant to discuss any safeguarding concerns with management, which was set out in the training received by the Registrant. This was emphasised to her during her induction, and during her supervisions, for example that of 8 September 2016.

80. The evidence of Ms 1 is the Registrant was ‘unable to apply the training’ she had received in a practical way in the workplace. The Panel was of the view that her performance in respect of Particulars 2 (a) (i) – (ii) was unacceptably low and constituted a lack of competence.

Particular 2 (b)

81. The evidence of Ms 1 was that when the lack of completion of the provision request was raised with the Registrant in supervision, on 9 August 2016, she was ‘surprised’ that she had not done it, and Ms 1’s view was that this appeared to be indicative of her lack of organisational skills. The Panel also noted that the Registrant referred to this oversight as a “mistake” in a case record dated 5 October 2016. The Panel was of the view that this constituted a lack of competence in that it was part of the Registrant’s inability to organise her work sufficiently.

Particular 3 (a) and 3 (c)

82. In relation to Particular 3a), the “Managing Performance” report sets out Ms 1’s assessment that the Registrant did not know what to do in response to the query from the finance department. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant was unable to apply her training about requesting advice and support when she was unclear as to what to do, and this led to inaction on her part. This resulted in a financial issue was unresolved for some time, leading to anxiety for the Service User E and her daughter. The Panel was of the view that this constituted a lack of competence in that the Registrant was unclear what to do, and unable to apply the instructions she had received to get advice.

83. With regard to the failure to record the meeting with Service User E as set out in Particular 3c), the Panel was of the view that this was part of the Registrant’s inability to organise her work and follow due administrative process and the Panel was of the view that this was a lack of competence.

Particular 3 (b)

84. The Panel took into account that the email in question was from the finance department, an internal Council department rather than from an outside agency. There was a lack of response to only one email which was sent to a shared inbox. The Registrant replied on 12 August 2016 having been made aware that a follow-up email had been sent. The Panel took into account that the delay was less than 2 weeks, and there was no immediate safeguarding risk created by the delay. In light of these circumstances, the Panel was of the view that neither by itself, nor taken in conjunction with the other Particulars, was this matter a lack of competence. Further, for the same reasons, it was not sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

Particular 4 (a)

85. The conclusion made by the Registrant that Service User F had refused an assessment was made on the basis of his failure to respond to a letter. The Panel accepted the witness’s view that this demonstrated a lack of awareness by the Registrant of the need to use different methods to engage with service users who were vulnerable who may be reluctant to respond. The Panel was of the view that this was a lack of competence.

Particular 4 (b)

86. The lack of prompt recording that Service User F had been found safe, only recorded by her nearly 24 hours later, did not take into account the potential impact on other professional colleagues such as the police, who would have been under the impression that Service User F was at risk, and action could have been taken unnecessarily by such agencies, which may also have caused Service User F distress and anxiety. The Registrant in the Panel’s view was unaware of the consequences of her inaction and Ms 1 had to specifically draw these to her attention in a discussion on 4 November 2016. The Panel was of the view that this inability to understand the need for the record and the consequences for others indicated a lack of competence by the Registrant.

Particular 5

87. The Panel took into account that the Registrant’s omissions in respect of Service User G and her husband occurred in October 2016, when the Registrant had been in her ASYE year for a significant time.  The Registrant, as well as having had safeguarding training, had already had discussions with Ms 1 about her omissions in respect of the safeguarding alert in relation to Service User B in August 2016, and the Panel is of the view that this earlier experience should have made the Registrant more alive to the need to act in certain ways in respect of recording and immediately informing senior team members, as well as other outside agencies.

88. The Registrant had herself spoken to Service User G’s husband on the telephone and made a contemporaneous note of his comments which were extremely concerning, raised safeguarding issues, and at worst, meant that his wife was in serious immediate danger. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant had, by this time sufficient training to know what she should do, which should have been a matter of common sense to her. Her inactions put Service User G as well as her husband at a risk of significant harm and strike at the heart of the duties of a social worker. The Panel was therefore of the view that the inactions set out in Particular 5 were sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

89. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired by reason of both the personal and public components and that public protection concerns are engaged, as well as the need to uphold the wider public interest. The Panel had regard to the Registrant’s written submissions dated 13 May 2018.

90. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred to CHRE v (1) NMC (2) Grant [2011] EWHC 927. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”. The Panel was aware that impairment is a matter for its own independent judgment and that public protection and the wider public interest should be considered.

91. The Panel was of the view that in her submissions the Registrant had demonstrated a degree of insight into the conduct in question. She stated as follows:

“Although I was told that it was reasonable to not know everything, there was a sense of caution for me to disclose not knowing something due to a fear that this may be used against me in my assessment. Therefore I tried to solve issues myself which resulted in the cases taking longer to resolve and at times putting service users at risk.
Nonetheless I acknowledge that my manager not being approachable is not an excuse as I could and should have utilised my other colleagues’ skills and knowledge. I have come to understand that seeking help and support is not a sign of weakness and rather not doing so can evidently be detrimental to myself and others.

I acknowledge and accept the allegations put forth by [Ms 1] and agree that I should have contributed effectively to the team and upheld the values of Social Work to safeguard vulnerable individuals. I regretfully apologise for the mistakes I made and hope that you will see to give me a second chance to prove myself and improve my practice in the future.”

92. However, the Panel was of the view that a deeper reflection on the matters in question, why they put service users at risk, and more detail about what should have been done differently, would have been appropriate. In the Panels view, the Registrant’s insight is therefore still in the process of development.

93. The Panel took into account that the Registrant was a new social worker in her first year of practice, and that she had apologised for her actions.

94. However, the Panel has no information about what the Registrant has done with regard to furthering her professional development since the matters in issue, and has no evidence of any steps taken to remediate or undertake further training or learning.

95. The Panel considered the case of Grant which set out questions from the Fifth Shipman Report to be asked by it when considering impairment. In considering these questions the Panel concluded that the Registrant had in the past put service users at unwarranted risk of harm and had in the past, brought the profession into disrepute and breached fundamental tenets of the profession.

96. The matters which have been found to constitute lack of competence and misconduct, taken together, occurred over a significant period of time, despite considerable support in the form of an ASYE programme and monthly supervision. Ms 1, in the Panel’s view, wished the Registrant to develop, and had made different suggestions to the Registrant to help her develop working relationships with the other team members, as evidenced in the detailed notes of the monthly supervision meetings. Despite the significant training and supervision, the Registrant was unable to put her training into practice in significant respects.

97. In addition, the Registrant has herself recognised in her written submissions that she tried to solve problems herself without asking others for help, although she now realises that seeking help is important and can prevent service users being put at risk. This is a significant recognition on the Registrant’s part, but as stated above, the Panel is of the view that further reflection and deeper understanding of this issue as well as the risk created are needed. Further, there is no evidence before the Panel that there has been remediation of the matters of concern, such as evidence of re-training, learning or reflection, for example, in relation the importance of working as a team or the importance of dealing correctly with safeguarding matters.  As a result, the Panel was of the view that there is a real risk of repetition of the lack of competence and misconduct in question, and that therefore the Registrant is liable to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm, to bring the profession into disrepute and to breach fundamental tenets in the future.

98. The Panel also considered the wide public interest. The Panel was of the view that the reputation of the Adult Services Team, as well as the profession was put at risk by the Registrant’s conduct in respect of Service User G. Ms 1’s evidence was that in respect of the Registrant’s inaction in respect of Service User G, she called the police who raised “significant concerns” that Adult Services had waited over 24 hours to share the safeguarding information with them and Ms 1 apologised to the police on behalf of Adult Services. It is relevant in the Panel’s view that when the police did a priority welfare call within an hour of being informed by Ms 1, they deemed that Service User G and her husband were unsafe to remain together. In addition, taking into account the Registrant’s lack of competence and misconduct and the risks created for service users as a result over a significant period of time despite a low caseload, formal training and regular supervision the Panel was of the view that the wider public interest is engaged. The need to maintain public confidence in the profession and uphold proper standards would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances.

99. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired.

Decision on Sanction

100. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd, read the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), took into account the Registrant’s written submissions, and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that the aim of sanction is not to be punitive. Rather, the aim is to uphold the public interest, which includes protection of the public. Sanction is a matter for the independent judgment of the Panel. The Panel took into account the principle of proportionality in coming to its decision on sanction.

101. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:

i. the Registrant’s admissions to the facts

ii. the Registrant was a newly qualified Social Worker

iii. no previous regulatory findings

iv. the Registrant has apologised

v. health issues which led to time off work

vi the Registrant’s 1.5 hour commute to work

vii. the Registrant’s potential to be a good social worker (Ms 1’s evidence).

102. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:

i. there was a series of inactions and actions over a period of time;

ii.  the Registrant presented a significant risk of harm to a number of vulnerable service users.

103. The Panel was of the view that mediation is not appropriate because it is not satisfied that the only other appropriate option would be to take no further action.

104. No further action would not address the real risk of repetition and therefore the risks to service users, which the Panel has already found to exist. Nor would it satisfy the public interest in this case, namely the need to maintain confidence and uphold proper standards. The Panel considered and discounted a Caution Order for the same reasons.

105. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order In this regard the Panel took into account para. 30 of the ISP which states:
“Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases:

• where the registrant has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process, lacks insight or denies any wrongdoing;

• where there are serious or persistent overall failings”.

106. The Panel noted the Registrant’s expression of willingness to improve her practice in the future, as well as her partial insight and her acceptance of responsibility for her failings, which are, in the Panel’s view, in principle capable of being remedied. However, the Panel was concerned that the issues of concern were numerous and persistent despite an ASYE framework of support, training and supervision. In addition, the Registrant’s deficiencies and failings were in respect of the core requirements of a social worker.

107. The Panel’s view, as set out in its earlier determination, was that the Registrant was unable to apply the advice and training she received in practice to real life situations, as was clear, for example, in the case of Service User G and her husband. The Panel was also mindful of the Registrant’s lack of assertiveness in approaching colleagues for advice. The need to communicate as part of a team was a regular feature of her supervisions with Ms 1, but did not appear to materialise in practice. For example as late as October 2016 the Registrant did not promptly share with senior colleagues or share with Service User G’s GP the safeguarding concerns, as her training had instructed her.

108. Therefore, the Panel was not satisfied that it could formulate workable, verifiable and practicable conditions, because of the issues in her practice which occurred despite the Registrant being subject to a recognised ASYE programme, training and frequent supervision. Further, the Panel considered that it was it possible to draft conditions that would ensure the Registrant applied learning and approached colleagues for advice. This was compounded by the lack of evidence of remediation of those deficiencies and failings.  As such, the Panel could not be satisfied that it could formulate conditions which would address the risks which it has already identified and therefore the Panel could not be satisfied that service users would be sufficiently protected against those risks.

109. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The Panel was of the view that this would be an appropriate and proportionate sanction, as the next sanction in the hierarchy of possible sanction. The Panel is was of the view that suspension would be proportionate to protect the public, and uphold the public interest. The Panel decided that 12 months was proportionate to reflect the continuing inability of the Registrant to put her training into practice despite continuing support and regular supervision.

110. While not the reason for imposing the suspension, or the length of it, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant should be afforded time to demonstrate further insight and remediation.

111. The Panel was of the view that a future Panel reviewing the Suspension Order would be assisted by the following:

• evidence of the undertaking of training in communication skills and interpersonal skills, including assertiveness training;

• a written reflective statement from the Registrant showing an understanding of why her practice fell below the expected standards, and what she would do differently. The reflection should also include examples, not necessarily in the social work context, of the Registrant working as part of a team, her communication skills and organisational skills;

• any references of testimonials in respect of any employment, whether paid or unpaid.

• The Registrant’s personal attendance at the review

112. The Panel did consider whether or not to make a Striking Off Order but came to the conclusion that such an outcome would be disproportionate and punitive, taking into account the Registrant’s newly qualified status, her admissions, her partial insight, and her expressions of her willingness to improve.

113. The Panel therefore decided to impose a 12 month Suspension Order.

Application for an Interim Order to cover the appeal period

114. The Panel heard an application from Ms Mond-Wedd for an 18 month Interim Suspension Order to cover the appeal period. She submitted that such an order is necessary to protect the public and is otherwise in the public interest.

115. The Panel considered the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Interim Orders” as well as Paragraphs 51-54 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

116. The Panel decided whether or not hear the application for an Interim Order in the absence of the Registrant. In deciding this issue, the Panel took into account that the Registrant had been informed, in the Notice of hearing dated 29 March 2018, that if this Panel found proved the allegation against her and imposed a sanction which removed, suspended or restricted her right to practise, the Panel may impose an Interim Order. In addition, the Panel took into account the reasons set out in its earlier decision to commence the hearing in the absence of the Registrant. In the circumstances, and for the same reasons, the Panel determined that it would also be fair, proportionate and in the interests of justice to consider Ms Mond-Wedd’s application.

117. The Panel recognised that it must take into consideration the impact of such an order on the Registrant as part of the principle of proportionality, and must balance the impact on the Registrant with the need to protect the public and uphold the public interest. However, the Panel was mindful of its findings in its decision on impairment and sanction in respect of the nature and degree of the risk to service users presented by the Registrant. As a result, the Panel was of the view that an Interim Order is necessary for the protection of the public. An Interim Order is also in the wider public interest in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and to uphold proper standards. Public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be seriously harmed if the Registrant were not made subject to an Interim Order during the appeal period.

118. The Panel was mindful of its decision at the sanction stage that Conditions could not be formulated to address the risks presented by the Registrant. The Panel considered that not to impose an Interim Suspension Order would be inconsistent with its findings

119. The Panel decided to impose an Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months, a duration which is appropriate and proportionate to allow any appeal which the Registrant brings, to be concluded.

Interim Order:

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest.  This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Order

Order:


The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Rhoda Donkor for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect. 

Notes

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 20 July 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Rhoda Donkor

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status