Mr Gary Keith Donald

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW29122

Interim Order: Imposed on 08 Mar 2018

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 05/03/2018 End: 17:00 08/03/2018

Location: ETC Venues, Avonmouth House, 6 Avonmouth Street, London, SE1 6NX

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Allegation (as amended)

While registered as a Social Worker and engaged by Cumbria County Council as an agency Social Worker between 3 August 2015 and 16 October 2015:

1. You did not complete adequate case recordings in a timely manner for statutory visits that had taken place for the following service users:

i. Service User 2;
ii. Service User 4;
iii. Service User 5;
iv. Service User 6;
v. Service User 7;
vi. Service User 10;
vii. Service User 11;
viii. Service User 12;
ix. Service User 13;
x. Service User 14;
xi. Service User 15;
xii. Service User 16;
xiii. Service User 17;
xiv. Service User 18;
xv. Service User 19;
xvi. Service User 20.

2. In relation to Service User 2, you did not:

a. update the Child Sexual Exploitation risk assessment as directed;

b. update the Pathway Plan as directed.

3. In relation to Service User 3, you did not:
a. set up a Personal Education Plan review, despite agreeing to with the service user;

b. update the Pathway Plan.

4. In relation to Service User 4, you did not follow up on the contact request made by the service user.

5. In relation to Service User 5, you did not pursue the pathway planning to ensure the service user was ready for transition.

6. In relation to Service User 6, you incorrectly completed the passport application, which led to the application being rejected.

7. In relation to Service User 7, you:
a. allowed unsupervised contact with Mother 7 without completing the risk assessment;
b. did not complete the required paperwork for the CLA review as requested.

8. In relation to Service User 10, you did not update the care plan as requested.

9. In relation to Service Users 11 and 13, you did not provide Mother 11 with a copy of the assessment as requested.

10. In relation to Service User 15, you did not:

a. complete the Personal Education Plan;

b. obtain therapeutic support as required.

11. In relation to Service User 16 and Service User 17, you did not:

a. submit information for a placement search;

b. upload the minutes of the disruption meeting.

12. In relation to Service User 18 and Service User 19, you did not adequately involve Father 18.

13. In relation to Service User 20, you did not complete:

a. the letter box agreement within the agreed timescales;

b. the later life letter within the agreed timescales;
c. the Annex A report.

14. In relation to Service User 21, you did not:

a. complete the Personal Education Plan;

b. obtain Service User 21's wishes;

c. look at permanence for Service User 21.

15. In relation to Service User 22, you did not progress the placement as requested.

16. In relation to Service User 23, you did not undertake any work on this case in the four weeks it was allocated to you.

17. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-16 amount to misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

1. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had been served with notice of the hearing in accordance with Rules 3 and 6 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee)(Procedure) Rules 2003.

2. Mr Dite made an application for the Panel to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant pursuant to Rule 11. The Panel was informed that the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC in these proceedings since August 2017 and had not responded to any of the subsequent communications sent by the HCPC to his current address on the register and to the email address he had provided. He had not applied for an adjournment or provided any information as to why the hearing should be adjourned.

3. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself from the hearing and waived his right to attend. The case concerns public protection issues. In all the circumstances, the Panel decided that it should proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant.

4. Mr Dite made an application to amend the particulars of the allegation in various respects. Notice of the proposed application to amend was sent to the Registrant by letter dated 3 October 2017. The Registrant had not responded to that letter. In the Panel’s judgment the proposed amendments served to clarify the particulars of the allegation without materially altering its substance. No prejudice would be caused to the Registrant by making the amendments. The application was therefore granted. The particulars as amended are set out above.

Background

5. During the relevant period the Registrant was a registered social worker engaged by Cumbria County Council (‘the Council’) as an agency Social Worker. The allegation relates to the Registrant’s time in the Barrow Office of the Council, where he worked in the Children Looked After (‘CLA’) and Leaving Care Services Team from 3 August 2015.
6. The Registrant’s contract with the Council came to an end, for an unrelated matter, on 16 October 2015. He had been given one week’s notice and was asked to ensure that all his case records were up to date before he left.

7. After he left the Council, the Registrant’s case files were reviewed and audited by his managers and a number of concerns were identified.
8. These concerns were reported by the Council to the HCPC, resulting in the current  proceedings.

The evidence in the case

9. There was one witness in this case: EC, a Senior Manager in Children’s Services at Cumbria County Council, whose witness statement dated 4 April 2017, detailed the alleged failings of the Registrant, referring to the case notes of the various service users concerned and the supervision records of the Registrant. EC’s statement exhibited 3,287 pages of service user records, supervision records and related documents. No evidence was provided by the Registrant’s Line Manager or the Service Manager.
10. EC did not know the Registrant personally and had never worked with him. She had no first hand knowledge of his work or of any of the cases of the service users which gave rise to the allegations in this case. However, she was able to give evidence of the Council’s policies and procedures at the material time. She was also able to comment on the adequacy, or otherwise, of Registrant’s case notes with reference to those policies and procedures.

11. EC gave oral evidence confirming her witness statement. She expanded on her evidence in her evidence-in-chief and in response to questions from the Panel. The Panel found EC to be clear, credible and consistent in her evidence. Having had no previous involvement with the Registrant, she had no preconceptions about his practice. The Panel considered her evidence to be fair and impartial within the limits of her knowledge of the Registrant.

12. The Registrant did not provide any evidence in response to the allegation. However, he had sent an email dated 14 August 2016 to the HCPC containing his representations to the Investigating Committee. At that stage particular 1 was the only factual particular of the allegation. In his representations he acknowledged that the allegations related to poor case recordings but considered that an overview of all the other allegations would be useful. He stated that his caseload required him to cover a wide geographical area, in relation to children placed across the North East and North West of England, with the result that in some weeks he was rarely office-based. He also claimed a lack of support from the Council in enabling him to access the case record computer system from home in order to update his entries. He complained that he had not been given the opportunity before his contract ended to complete outstanding work. He drew attention to the fact that he had still not been provided with notes for the two personal supervision sessions undertaken with his Team Manager.

Burden and standard of proof

13. The Panel was mindful that the burden of proof was on the HCPC and that the civil standard of proof applied, so the particulars of the allegation must be proved on the balance of probabilities.
14. The Panel took into account submissions by Mr Dite on behalf of the HCPC and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

The Panel’s findings of fact

15. By way of background to this case, the Panel accepted the evidence of EC to the following effect in paragraphs 16 to 21 below.

16. The Registrant was an experienced social worker and he had previously worked for the Council as an agency Advanced Practitioner social worker  from 3 February 2014 to 28 June 2015.

17. The Council required records of statutory visits for Looked After Children to be entered into the computerised record system (known as ICS) within 5 working days of each visit. This requirement was contained in a policy document that the Registrant would have been expected to read.  The version of the policy document in the papers had been updated in August 2016. However, the 5 day requirement had been in place for many years and indeed the Registrant clearly understood that requirement, as was evidenced by the number of case notes that he had completed within the required period. It followed that any records of statutory visits not completed by the Registrant within 5 working days would not have been done in a timely manner.

18. The Council required the contents and format of statutory visit records to be in accordance with a policy to be found on the Council’s Trix system. This would have been available to the Registrant and he would have been expected to read it. That policy set out the format and minimum expected contents for a record of a statutory visit. It was apparent that the Registrant knew what the record of a statutory visit should contain, as some of his records were written in the correct format and in sufficient detail. The adequacy, or otherwise, of records was measurable by reference to this policy.

19. All social workers had access to laptops so that they could work from home. They could access the ICS recording system from any Council office. The Registrant would have used the same recording system when he previously worked as an agency social worker and was therefore familiar with it.

20. The Registrant had the same team manager throughout the relevant period. Personal supervision took place monthly and ad hoc supervision was available as required.

21. The Registrant had a caseload of about 20 cases, which was not excessive for a full time social worker, which EC understood the Registrant  to be.

22. With this contextual framework in mind, the Panel made the following findings in relation to each of the particulars and sub-particulars of the allegation.

Particular 1
1. You did not complete adequate case recordings in a timely manner for statutory visits that had taken place for the following service users:
i. Service User 2; ii. Service User 4; iii. Service User 5; iv. Service User 6; v. Service User 7;
vi. Service User 10; vii. Service User 11; viii. Service User 12; ix. Service User 13;
x. Service User 14; xi. Service User 15; xii. Service User 16; xiii. Service User 17;
xiv. Service User 18; xv. Service User 19; xvi. Service User 20.

Particular 1(i)       Not proved
23. In relation to Service User 2, the Registrant made a record on 28 September 2015 of the statutory visit which he conducted on 25 September 2015. Although EC told the Panel that, in her view, the Registrant’s case recording did not contain sufficient detail, the Panel considered that this particular record satisfied the requirements of the Council’s policy and was adequate.

Particular 1(ii)      Proved
24. In relation to Service User 4, the Registrant created records on 5 and 9 October 2015 respectively for statutory visits apparently conducted on 5 and 6 October 2015. EC told the Panel that she believed one of these records to be have been made in error, as it was unlikely that two statutory visits occurred on consecutive days. In any event, neither records contained information in the “Write Up” section or the “Detailed Notes” sections and merely stated: “Notes to follow”. The Panel found this to be inadequate as a record.

Particular 1(iii)      Proved
25. The case of Service User 5 was allocated to the Registrant on 6 August 2015. Service User 5 was a young person who was due to undertake an apprenticeship. The Registrant carried out an introductory statutory visit to this service user on 13 August 2015. The Registrant recorded in the case note that an LAC review was due to take place. A further statutory visit was recorded by the Registrant as having taken place on 8 October 2015. The Registrant’s record of that visit contained no information as to what progress the service user was making. It follows that the Registrant’s case recording was inadequate.

Particular 1(iv)      Proved
26. In relation to Service User 6, the Registrant made a record on 28 September 2015 for a statutory visit conducted on 24 September 2015. Two days prior to the visit there had been a “Missing From Home Meeting” in relation to the service user, which the Registrant had attended. This service user was known to be at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation. The record of the visit contained no information in the “Write Up” section and in the “Detailed Notes” section. It simply stated: “Notes to follow”. This recording was inadequate.

Particular 1(v)      Proved
27. In relation to Service User 7, the Registrant made a record on 3 September 2015 for a statutory visit conducted on 28 August 2015, i.e. within 5 working days. The record of the visit contained no information in the “Detailed Notes” or “Write Up” sections. It follows that the record was inadequate.

Particular 1(vi)      Proved
28. In relation to Service User 10, the Registrant created a record on 20 August 2015 of a statutory visit conducted on 13 August 2015, i.e. within 5 working days. The record of the visit contained no information in the “Write Up” section and in the “Detailed Notes” section, and merely  stated: “Initial Introductory visit”. This record was  inadequate.

Particulars 1(vii) and 1(ix)     Proved
29. In relation to Service Users 11 and 13, who were siblings, the Registrant made a record on 9 October 2015 for a statutory visit conducted on 28 September 2015. The record of the visit contained no information in the “Detailed Notes” or “Write Up” sections. This record was neither adequate nor timely.
 
Particular 1(viii)              Proved
30. In relation to Service User 12, the Registrant created a record on 16 October 2015 for a statutory visit conducted on 5 October 2015. The record of the visit contained no information in the “Write Up” section and in the “Detailed Notes” section it simply stated: “Notes to follow”. Therefore this record was neither adequate nor timely.

Particulars 1(x) and 1(xi)     Proved
31. In relation to Service Users 14 and 15, who were siblings, the Registrant made a record on 3 September 2015 for a statutory visit conducted on 1 September 2015. It was updated and finalised by the Registrant on 17 September 2015. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that the proper recording of information in relation to this statutory visit was particularly important, as this was a complex case that required the Registrant to have properly considered the care plan and to record appropriate information in relation to the visit. This statutory visit was particularly important because Service User 15, who had exhibited sexualised behaviour, was planning to go to university. Both he and Service User 14 had complex needs and associated risks. Although  some information was recorded in the “Detailed Notes” and “Write Up” sections, it was inadequate in respect of both service users.

Particulars 1(xii) and 1(xiii)     Proved
32. In relation to Service Users 16 and 17, who were siblings, the Registrant made a record on the same day for a statutory visit conducted on 13 October 2015. The record of the visit contained no information in the “Detailed Notes” or “Write Up” sections. The Registrant’s last day with the Council was 16 October 2015. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that the Registrant had been asked to ensure that all his notes were completed by the time he left. His record of this statutory visit remained incomplete at the time of his leaving the Council.

Particulars 1(xiv) and 1(xv)     Proved
33. In relation to Service Users 18 and 19, who were siblings, the Registrant made records for statutory visits conducted on 7 August 2015, 1 September 2015, and 6 October 2015 respectively. The records of the 1 September 2015 and 6 October 2015 visits contained no information in the “Detailed Notes” or “Write Up” sections. The records were therefore inadequate.

Particular 1(xvi)               Proved
34. In relation to Service User 20, statutory visits were conducted on 25 August 2015 and 5 October 2015 but the records of those visits, created by the Registrant on 28 August 2015 and 5 October 2015 respectively, contained no information in the “Detailed Notes” or “Write Up” sections. The records were inadequate.

Particular 2
2. In relation to Service User 2, you did not:
a. update the Child Sexual Exploitation risk assessment as directed; Proved
b. update the Pathway Plan as directed.  Proved

35. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User 2 on 25 August 2015.The supervision note dated 3 September 2015 in relation to this case recorded that two of the agreed actions which the Registrant had to complete by the time of the next supervision on 6 October 2015, were to update the “CSE Toolkit” and complete a “Pathway Plan”. There was no record that either of these tasks had been completed by the Registrant. In fact, the CSE Screening Tool was only updated in November 2015 by another social worker after the Registrant had ceased working for the Council.

Particular 3
3. In relation to Service User 3, you did not:
a. set up a Personal Education Plan review, despite agreeing to with the service user;     Proved
b. update the Pathway Plan.   Proved
36. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User 3 on 6 August 2015. The supervision note dated 6 August 2015 in relation to this case recorded that one of the agreed actions was for the Registrant to complete Part 1 of the Pathway Plan within two weeks. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that she had examined the service user records, which showed that the Pathway Plan had not been completed by the Registrant.

37. In addition, the record of the statutory visit conducted by the Registrant on 7 August 2015 stated that Service User 3 “would like a PEP once she has returned to 6th Form just to ensure that support is in place should it be required (on advice of carer). Agreed that I would arrange a meeting once school resumes”. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that she had examined the service user records, which showed that this task was not done by the Registrant. A record from an “IRO Visit” with the service user on 13 November 2015, after the Registrant had stopped working for the Council, stated that: “PEP needs to be organised to ensure any additional support needed is put in place”.

Particular 4
4. In relation to Service User 4, you did not follow up on the contact request made by the service user.  Proved

38. The Registrant conducted a statutory visit with Service User 4 on 25 August 2015 and recorded in the notes of that visit that “[Service User 4] has requested that contact is reduced and that it takes place in the Oldham area so that he can be supported”. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that this was a significant request from a 14 year-old child in relation to contact with his mother, which he wished to take place away from her home area. However, on 8 October 2015 an email was sent to the Registrant by the Fostering Social Worker that indicated Service User 4 was unsettled in his placement and asked: “Please could you explain why the decision has been made for him to go home for contact as in my opinion, this is a really big factor?” The Panel inferred from this that the Registrant had not followed up on the service user’s request to change the contact arrangements with his mother.

Particular 5
5. In relation to Service User 5, you did not pursue the pathway planning to ensure the service user was ready for transition. Not proved
39. The Panel found no sufficient evidence in support of this particular.

Particular 6
6. In relation to Service User 6, you incorrectly completed the passport application, which led to the application being rejected.      Not Proved

40. A case note made by a duty social worker on 24 August 2015 recorded: “Passport and passport photos posted to Gary to finish passport application”. There was evidence that the passport application had been rejected by the Passport Office because the application contained an error as to the service user’s name. However, there was also evidence that the passport application had to be signed off by the Team Manager. In the circumstances, the Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant was responsible for incorrectly completing the passport application.

Particular 7
7. In relation to Service User 7, you:
a. allowed unsupervised contact with Mother 7 without completing the risk assessment;     Not proved
b. did not complete the required paperwork for the CLA review as requested.      Proved
41. With regard to particular 7a, the Panel was not satisfied on the evidence that the Registrant had allowed Service User 7 to have unsupervised contact with Mother 7.

42. With regard to particular 7b, the case supervision note dated 6 August 2015 recorded that the Registrant was to complete a “Pre-Meeting Review Report” for the upcoming CLA review. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that there was no record that the Registrant carried out this task.

Particular 8
8. In relation to Service User 10, you did not update the care plan as requested.      Not proved
43. EC acknowledged in her evidence that the Registrant had updated the care plan for Service User 10 on 12 August 2015.

Particular 9
9. In relation to Service Users 11 and 13, you did not provide Mother 11 with a copy of the assessment as requested. Not proved

44. The Registrant was allocated the sibling Service Users 11 and 13 on 15 September 2015. On 23 September 2015, an entry was made in the service user records indicating that a telephone call had been received from Mother 11 asking that a copy of an assessment be forwarded to her solicitor. Mother 11 was told that the Registrant would call her back. There was no evidence that the Registrant had failed to provide Mother 11 with a copy of the assessment.

Particular 10
10. In relation to Service User 15, you did not:
a. complete the Personal Education Plan; Proved
b. obtain therapeutic support as required. Not proved

45. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User 15, and his brother Service User 14, on 6 August 2015. A record of a case supervision between the Registrant and his line manager dated 6 August 2015 noted that the Registrant should update the PEP by the end of September 2015 and to discuss therapeutic support with “Safer Futures”. With regard to particular 10a, the Panel accepted EC’s evidence that there was no record that the Registrant had completed a PEP.

46. However, with regard to 10b, there was no evidence as to what, if any, therapeutic support was required and, in the absence of such evidence, this particular could not be proved.

Particular 11
11. In relation to Service User 16 and Service User 17, you did not:
a. submit information for a placement search;  Not proved
b. upload the minutes of the disruption meeting. Proved

47. With regard to particular 11a, EC acknowledged in her evidence that an entry in the service user records dated 3 September 2015 indicated that the Registrant did in fact send a “placement request” on that date.

48. With regard to particular 11b, an entry in the service user records created by the Registrant on 7 September 2015 and finalised by him on 30 September 2015 recorded that a “placement breakdown meeting” had been held on 7 September 2015. EC told that Panel that a “placement breakdown meeting” was the same as a “disruption meeting”. The Registrant’s record stated: “minutes to be uploaded onto ICS”. The entry did not contain those minutes. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that no such minutes were uploaded onto the system.

Particular 12

12. In relation to Service User 18 and Service User 19, you did not adequately involve Father 18.   Proved
49. The Registrant was allocated the case of the sibling Service Users 18 and 19 on 6 August 2015. On 14 September 2015, a telephone call was received from Stepmother 18 who was concerned that Father 18 had not been invited to meetings nor received information about Service User 18’s care and that she would like the social worker to contact them. The Registrant was sent an email alerting him to this telephone call. On 14 October 2015 a further telephone call was received from Stepmother 18 who again expressed that she was unhappy that Father 18 had not been involved in meetings or provided with updates. EC told the Panel that the father had parental responsibility and therefore  should have been part of the decision making process. The Panel inferred from this evidence that the Registrant should have involved Father 18 but did not adequately do so.

Particular 13
13. In relation to Service User 20, you did not complete:
a. the letter box agreement within the agreed timescales; Proved
b. the later life letter within the agreed timescales;  Proved
c. the Annex A report.           Not proved

50. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User 20 on 6 August 2015.  A record of supervision dated 3 September 2015 noted a number of agreed actions to be completed by the Registrant. These included: arranging letter box contact and completing a later life letter within 6 weeks as well as the completion of an Annex A report “As and when instructed by the Courts”. So far as the Annex A report was concerned, this was not due until 30 November 2015. The letter box agreement and the later life letter were due to be produced by 15 October 2015 but were not.

Particular 14
14. In relation to Service User 21, you did not:
a. complete the Personal Education Plan; Proved
b. obtain Service User 21's wishes;  Proved
c. look at permanence for Service User 21. Proved

51. The Registrant was allocated the cases of Service User 21 and his sibling, Service User 24, on 15 September 2015. The Registrant did not have a case supervision session with his line manager about the case. However, on 17 September 2015 the Registrant’s line manager completed a “Management Oversight” entry on the system. This summarised the case and what needed to be done by the Registrant and referred to the case supervision record that had been completed with the previous social worker. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that this would have “popped up” with an automatic alert in the Registrant’s “work tray” on the computer system.

52. The Panel further accepted EC’s evidence that the Registrant had been tasked with completing a Personal Education Plan and “progressing permanence”. She told the Panel that this might have involved the Registrant obtaining the wishes of Service User 21, meeting with the service users, directly working with the potential permanent carers, or producing a “matching report” concerning them. She told the Panel that the Registrant had the case for four weeks but the only evidence in the records of any action being taken by the Registrant was the record a meeting he had with the father of the service users when he came into the office. It follows that particulars 14 a, b and c are proved.

Particular 15
15. In relation to Service User 22, you did not progress the placement as requested.     Not proved

53. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User 22 on 15 September 2015. He did not have a case supervision session with his line manager. However, on 17 September 2015 the Registrant’s line manager completed a “Management Oversight” entry on the system. This summarised the case and what needed to be done by the Registrant and referred to the case supervision record that had been completed with the previous social worker. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that this would have “popped up” with an automatic alert in the Registrant’s “work tray” on the computer system.

54. EC told the Panel that in the four weeks that the Registrant had the case the only evidence of any work being done by him on the case was the arranging of a PEP meeting and the writing (or at least updating) of a case summary. The “Management Oversight” entry had noted: “Gary needs to liaise with CS (SW fostering team) in order to progress with placement move.” However, in the absence of any evidence as to what, if anything, the Registrant was requested to do in order to progress the placement, this particular is not proved.

Particular 16
16. In relation to Service User 23, you did not undertake any work on this case in the four weeks it was allocated to you. Proved

55. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User 23 on 15 September 2015. He did not have a case supervision session with his line manager about the case.  However, on 17 September 2015 the Registrant’s line manager completed a “Management Oversight” entry on the system. This summarised the case and what needed to be done by the Registrant and referred to the case supervision record that had been completed with the previous social worker. The Panel accepted EC’s evidence that this would have “popped up” with an automatic alert in the Registrant’s “work tray” on the computer system.

56. EC told the Panel that there was no evidence that, in the four weeks following allocation, the Registrant undertook any work on the file. Indeed the records suggested that he had not even introduced himself to the service user and had not responded to emails sent from the manager of the home where the service user was staying.

Decision on Grounds

57. The Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved, or any of them, amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence, as alleged in particular 17.

58. The Panel took into account the submissions of Mr Dite and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

59. The Panel was mindful that this was a matter for the Panel’s professional judgement, there being no standard or burden of proof.

60. The Panel first considered whether the facts found proved, or any of them, constituted lack of competence. The Panel was satisfied that there was a fair sample of work to consider. However, the Registrant was an experienced social worker, having qualified in 2004 and previously worked for the Council as an Advanced Practitioner social worker in Child Protection for a period of 18 months. He knew what was required of him in relation to record keeping, making timely visits and following up concerns relating to service users on his caseload. In the Panel’s judgement, his failures in all these respects were not attributable to a lack of competence.

61. The Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved, or any of them, constituted misconduct. The Panel took into account that misconduct was defined in Roylance v General Medical Council (no 2) [2001] 1 AC 311 as:

“a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a (medical) practitioner in the particular circumstances”.

62. It is clear from case law that the conduct must be sufficiently serious that it can be properly described as misconduct going to fitness to practice.

63. The facts found proved related, in large part, to failing to make adequate and timely records of statutory visits and failing to follow up instructions in supervision. These were failures in very basic standards of conduct and performance required of all social workers.

64. The Panel found the Registrant to be in breach of the following of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance, and Ethics (2012):

• Standard 1 (You must act in the best interests of service users)
•  Standard 7 (You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners); and
• Standard 10 (You must keep accurate records).

65. Apart from the general failure to make adequate and/or timely records, as reflected in particulars 1, 10 and 11 the Panel regarded particulars 1(xiv), 1(xv), 2a, 4, 12, 14 and 16 as being particularly serious.
 
66. Taken together, and individually, the proven particulars amounted to misconduct as constituting a serious falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances. All the cases concerned vulnerable children at important times of their lives and the legally required statutory visits were an important feature of the Registrant’s role in relation to those children. The Registrant’s failure to make proper records resulted in a loss of potentially significant information relating to those service users and a failure to manage and progress their cases appropriately.

67. In all the circumstances the proven facts (apart from particulars 13a and 13b which the Panel considered to be insufficiently serious) constituted misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

68. The Panel took into account the submissions of Mr Dite on behalf of the HCPC.

69. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered the HCPTS Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practise is “Impaired”.

70. In determining whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, the Panel took into account both the “personal” and “public” components of impairment. The “personal” component relates to the Registrant’s own practice as a social worker, including any evidence of insight and remorse and efforts towards remediation. The “public” component includes the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulator.

71. The Panel noted the content of the email dated 14 August 2016 from the Registrant to the HCPC showed an awareness that his practice had not been to a satisfactory standard in various respects, albeit that he did not appear to accept personal responsibility and blamed this on external factors, such as a lack of support. He stated that:  “The team was chaotic with increasing staff turnover/employment of locums. The team was not working as a team with little support or cohesion. My caseload was varied with children placed across the North East/North West meaning that in some weeks I was rarely office based. Many of the timescales had not been met previously and carers had little or no confidence in previous SWs or the team in general …. I was provided with a laptop which I could not utilise or access home working and I had to use my own mobile phone as I was not provided with a work one”. In particular, the Registrant identified the following factors which he considered to have caused him problems in performing his duties:

• Management’s lack of care planning and oversight resulting in little knowledge of current circumstances
• Drift in cases taken over
• Mistrust of numerous foster carers due to apparent inaction of previous social worker involvement
• Lack of time in the office to complete /access ICS
• Lack of team structure – often having to fill in as the duty social worker as no others were in the office
• The amount of work miles travelled on a daily/weekly basis, often in excess of 200-500 per week
• Inability to access work from his home computer.

72. The Registrant also complained that, when his contract was terminated, he was not given sufficient time to complete outstanding work.

73. Whilst the Panel understands the nature of the Registrant’s complaints, the general tenor of his email was to deflect personal responsibility for his shortcomings and attribute blame to others. The Panel considered that he had demonstrated little insight into his failures of practice or the negative impact on service users.

74. Whilst in the same email, the Registrant stated that he had made personal arrangements at his own expense to attend training in respect of case recording/case planning to enhance his reporting skills, he had provided no evidence that he had attended such a course. Nor had he provided any other evidence to demonstrate remediation of the failures in his practice identified in this case. The Panel had no information about his work or personal circumstances since the termination of his employment by the Council in October 2015.

75. The Panel was of the view that the nature and extent of the Registrant’s misconduct were such that his fitness to practise was undoubtedly impaired during the period from 3 August 2015 to 16 October 2015 to which the particulars of allegation related.

76. The Panel noted that the Registrant had previously worked for the Council as an Advanced Practitioner social worker in Child Protection for a period of 18 months without any untoward issues apparently arising in relation to his practice. The Panel considered the failings identified in the current proceedings to be remediable but there was no evidence that they had been remediated. In the absence of any such evidence, the Panel concluded that his fitness to practise remains impaired.

77.  There was no evidence before the Panel of harm to any service user as a result of the Registrant’s inactions, albeit that the risk of harm is difficult to quantify. However, the Panel considered that not progressing cases expeditiously, not acting on the request of a service user and not providing full details of what had occurred during statutory visits could have a negative emotional impact on service users now and in the future.

78. There could be a risk of repetition of the Registrant’s misconduct, with potential harm to service users, if he were permitted to practise as a social worker without restriction. In conclusion, the Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was and remains impaired having regard to the “personal” component.

79. The Panel also found the “public” component of impairment to be satisfied in this case. The Registrant’s misconduct posed a risk to service users, as a result of which public confidence in the profession and in the Regulator would be undermined if there were no finding of impairment.

Decision on Sanction

80. The Panel took into account the submissions of Mr Dite.

81. The Panel took into account the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public and the wider public interest of upholding proper standards and maintaining the reputation of the profession. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the Registrant with those of the public, and considered the available sanctions in ascending order.

82. The aggravating factors in this case are that:

• The allegation included a large number of failings in basic social work practice within a short period of time.
• The Registrant’s failings had the potential to cause significant harm to service users.
• He had not engaged in these proceedings.
• He had shown very limited insight into the need to take personal responsibility for the failures in his practice.
• There was no evidence of remediation, whether by undertaking training or otherwise.
• In the absence of remediation, there was a risk of repetition.

83. The mitigating factors are that :

• The Registrant had a previously unblemished record as a social worker, in which capacity he had worked since 2004. An employer’s reference which pre-dated the allegations in this case gave a reasonably favourable account of his work for the Council during an 18 month period as an Advanced Practitioner social worker. 

• An Ofsted report in March 2015 had deemed Children Looked After services across the county to be inadequate. EC acknowledged in evidence that the task of addressing the Ofsted report remained work in progress at the relevant time. That evidence lends some credence to the Registrant’s complaints about the difficult conditions under which he was working.

84. The case is too serious for the Panel to take no further action.

85. Mediation is not relevant.

86. A Caution Order is not appropriate in a case where the Panel has identified significant risks to the public as the public would not be protected by such an order. The incidents were neither minor nor isolated and the Panel considered there to be a risk of recurrence.

87. A Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate because of the repeated and serious failures identified in the Registrant’s practice and his failure to engage with the HCPC in these proceedings. The Registrant has not yet accepted personal responsibility for his failings or demonstrated insight which would enable him to benefit from a Conditions of Practice Order.

88. The Panel has decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction is a Suspension Order for a period of 9 months. This is the amount of time that is needed for the Registrant to take initial steps to address his shortcomings and to enable him to obtain employment in the social care sector.

89. The Panel considered that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate at this time.

90.  At the review of this Order, a future Panel may be assisted by the following:

• The Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing.

• A reflective statement from the Registrant about the outcome of these proceedings and his personal responsibility for the identified failings in his practice.

• A personal development plan which addresses the failings identified by the Panel in this case, in particular: (i) record keeping (ii) managing his working time and priorities effectively and (iii) progressing cases expeditiously.

• Evidence from any employer and/or other work-related activities, whether in paid or unpaid employment, that the Registrant has attempted to address the failures in his practice, in particular, but not limited to, the following: (a) time management (b) record keeping (c) taking personal responsibility for the identified failings in his practice (d) expediting/progressing cases in a social care capacity.

• Up to date references and testimonials from any employer and in relation to any work-related activities, whether in paid or unpaid employment.

• Evidence that the Registrant has kept up to date with current social work practice.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the name of Gary Keith Donald for a period of 9 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

You may appeal to the appropriate court against the decision of the Panel and the order it has made against you. In this case the appropriate court is the High Court in England and Wales.
An appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you.  The order made against you will not take effect until that appeal period has expired or, if you appeal during that period, until that appeal is disposed of or withdrawn.

Interim Order:
The Registrant was on notice that an Interim Order could be made as stated in the Notices of Hearing dated 9 November 2017 and 17 January 2018 respectively. The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order against Gary Keith Donald 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.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Gary Keith Donald

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status