Mrs Lisa H Bullock
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During the course of your practice as a Social Worker at Birmingham City Council, you:
1) Accessed confidential records without having a professional reason to do so relating to:
a) Yourself, on or around 6 October 2011, 25 November 2011 and/or 4 January 2012;
b) Child A, on or around 27 December 2011;
c) Mr X, on or around 25 November 2011; and
d) Ms C, on or around 9 November 2011.
2) Did not adequately safeguard Child A and therefore they became the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
3) Did not cooperate with Birmingham City Council’s investigation to determine the risks to colleagues when Mr X, threatened your colleague Ms D, by failing to disclose your relationship with Mr X to Birmingham City Council.
4) Worked at Stoke on Trent Council, between 8 February 2013 and 19 April 2013, whilst claiming sick pay from Birmingham City Council.
5) Your actions described at paragraphs 1, 3 and 4 were dishonest.
6) The matters described in paragraphs 1 – 5 amount to misconduct.
7) By reason of that misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. The substantive hearing of this matter took place before a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee [“the previous Panel”], between 13 and 21 March 2017. The previous Panel found all the Particulars of the Allegation proved. The previous Panel also found that misconduct was established and that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.
2. On 1 June 2017, the Registrant and the HCPC consented to an order in the High Court of Justice, that the previous Panel’s decision to suspend the Registrant from the Register for a period of 12 months be quashed and that the matter be remitted to a freshly constituted Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee for redetermination of sanction.
3. The Schedule to the Consent Order was drafted in the following terms:
(i) The Appellant is a registered social worker. On 21 March 2017, the Conduct and Competence Committee of the Respondent made an order suspending the Appellant from the register for a period of 12 months and imposed an Interim Suspension Order until the final determination of any appeal.
(ii) The Interim Suspension Order was terminated by consent by order dated 1 June 2017.
(iii) The Respondent concedes the appeal in recognition of procedural irregularities in the Panel’s decision as to sanction.
(iv) The Respondent agrees to the Appellant’s case being remitted to a freshly constituted Conduct and Competence Committee for redetermination of sanction.
Representation and documentation
4. The HCPC was represented by Ms Hannah Eales of Kingsley Napley Solicitors. The Registrant was present and was not represented. The Registrant arrived at the hearing venue at 10.55 hrs and the hearing started at 11.10 hrs. The Registrant apologised to the Panel for being late. The Panel was provided with the bundle of witness statements and exhibits which was before the previous Panel. The Panel also had a transcript of the substantive hearing which was redacted in respect of the decision on sanction.
Application for the hearing to be in private
5. The Registrant applied for the whole of the hearing to be in private due to the personal nature of matters which may be raised. The Registrant submitted that it was necessary for the whole hearing to be in private to protect herself.
6. Ms Eales did not object to the application, given that the whole hearing before the previous Panel had been in private. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel to retire and consider the application, in particular, whether a departure from the usual principle that hearings be in public, was justified.
7. The Panel retired to consider the application and concluded that the whole hearing be should be in private so as to give the Registrant the opportunity to give such evidence as she wished, which could involve personal and private matters.
Decision on Sanction
8. The Panel heard oral evidence from the Registrant.
9. Ms Eales made submissions on behalf of the HCPC.
10. The Registrant provided the Panel with written submissions which it has read and taken into account.
11. The Panel was also provided with three references which had been before the previous Panel and a new undated and unsigned reference from an unspecified source which the Registrant said related to a period of employment between April-November 2017.
12. The Panel had regard to the previous Panel’s findings that the Registrant had breached data protection and confidentiality requirements, which are fundamental to the role of a registered social worker.
13. The previous Panel found that these breaches were for the purpose of furthering the Registrant’s own needs and that the Registrant also failed to act in the best interest of Child A. That Panel noted that safeguarding is also fundamental to the role of a registered social worker.
14. The previous Panel found that when the nature of the Registrant’s relationship with Mr X was brought to the attention of the Council the Registrant initially failed to cooperate, which hindered the Council’s ability to assess the risk to Ms D. Furthermore, the previous Panel found that on three occasions the Registrant had acted dishonestly by accessing confidential records, failing to cooperate with the Council and working at Stoke on Trent Council while in receipt of sick pay.
15. The previous Panel also noted that as a direct consequence of the Registrant’s actions, harm was caused to Ms D and Child A and the Council was potentially exposed to financial loss and reputational damage. In particular, the previous Panel identified the following adverse consequences:
• Having to be made the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
• Prolonged distress and anxiety;
• Fear for her personal safety and the safety of others attending the Council’s offices.
16. The previous Panel recognised that not all of the adverse consequences were avoidable but concluded that the impact could have been reduced had the Registrant acted appropriately. In addition to the impact on Child A and Ms D, the Registrant’s conduct had the potential to adversely affect colleagues within her team and the wider profession. The previous Panel identified that trust and confidence amongst professional colleagues is extremely important; they should be able to rely on team members to act with honesty and integrity at all times.
17. Additionally, the previous Panel found that the Registrant’s dishonest conduct related to three separate issues: unauthorised access to confidential data; a failure to disclose her relationship with Mr X, and working at Stoke on Trent Council whilst receiving sick pay from Birmingham City Council.
18. The previous Panel found that although the Registrant appeared to have made some attempt to address the consequences of her relationship with Mr X. The previous Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant’s reflections in this regard were meaningful or fully developed.
19. Furthermore, the Registrant provided no information to assist the previous Panel in respect of her employment with Stoke on Trent Council.
20. The previous Panel found that the Registrant’s dishonest conduct demonstrated a conscious and deliberate decision to mislead colleagues and her employer. Although the Registrant admitted that she had acted dishonestly by working at Stoke on Trent Council whilst in receipt of sick pay from Birmingham City Council, she provided no apology, explanation or evidence of reflection. Instead, the previous Panel found that the Registrant, despite her admissions, sought to justify her actions. As a consequence of the Registrant’s pattern of behaviour the previous Panel took the view that the risk of repetition was high.
21. The Panel today had regard to all of the material before it and accepted the findings of the previous Panel. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy dated 22 March 2017. Given the seriousness and totality of the matters found proved, the Panel was satisfied that a sanction was required and that it would not be appropriate to take no further action.
22. The Panel next considered a Caution Order. The Panel was mindful that the lapses in this case were not minor and were not isolated and occurred over a prolonged period of time. Further, a caution order may be appropriate where the risk of repetition is low and the registrant has shown insight, neither of which the Panel found to be applicable.
23. In relation to the proven matters which concerned safeguarding issues, the Panel accepted that due to the Registrant’s improved understanding and changes in the circumstances of the Registrant’s care of Child A, the risk of repetition in this area may be less, although no evidence of specific remediation in either safeguarding or data protection has been provided.
24. In relation to the dishonesty matters in respect of her employment with Stoke on Trent Council, the Panel considered that the Registrant had not provided any evidence of reflection or remediation and still lacked sufficient insight. Accordingly, the Panel considered that the risk of repetition of dishonest conduct remained high, as it was when the matter was considered by the previous Panel. Notwithstanding that a year has now passed since the substantive hearing, the Registrant has not provided any supporting evidence that her current employers or the agency through whom she has obtained locum work are aware of the fitness to practise proceedings against her or the findings made by the previous Panel. This Panel was unable to accept that the Registrant’s employer and agency are aware of the fitness to practise proceedings without any corroborative evidence to that effect.
25. For all these reasons, the Panel determined that a Caution Order would be insufficient to protect the public or satisfy the public interest.
26. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel had regard to paragraph 33 of the ISP which sets out that 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; or
• Which involve dishonesty, breach of trust or abuse of service users.
27. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had failed to engage fully with the fitness to practise process in that she had attended today without evidence of her current employment, up to date references, remediation, or reflection on the findings of the previous Panel. The Panel found the Registrant lacked sufficient insight in relation to the impact of her conduct and dishonesty on Ms D, her colleagues, and her employers. The Registrant’s failings were serious and her dishonesty in respect of her employment with Stoke on Trent Council persisted over a prolonged period.
28. The Panel was unable to formulate any appropriate or workable conditions which would address the nature of the misconduct found in this case. It also concluded that the matters found proved were too serious for conditions to be adequate to protect the public and satisfy the public interest.
29. In next considering a Suspension Order, the Panel had regard to paragraph 39 of the ISP which sets out that suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited.
30. The Panel’s main concern was that one year after her relationship with person X had finished, the Registrant committed repeated acts of dishonesty in respect of her employment with Stoke on Trent Council. Whilst, in the absence of any evidence of sufficient insight or remediation, the risk of repetition of this type of dishonesty remains high, the Panel considered that evidence of remediation could potentially be provided and hence a striking off order was not merited at this stage. An important omission in the Registrant’s submissions to this Panel was the lack of any evidence from her current or previous employers that she is honest and trustworthy and that she has made them aware of the fitness to practise proceedings.
31. Taking all matters into consideration, the Panel therefore concluded that the appropriate and proportionate sanction was a Suspension Order for a period of 9 months. In deciding that period, the Panel had regard to the need to protect the public interest and to mark the seriousness of the matters found proved. The Panel also took into account that the Registrant was suspended on an interim basis between 21 March 2017 and 1 June 2017.
32. The Suspension Order will be reviewed prior to its expiry. A reviewing panel may be assisted by appropriate references from the Registrant’s previous and current employers, the agency, or from anybody for who she has done paid or unpaid work. These references should provide testimony that they are aware of the fitness to practise proceedings, that the Registrant is honest and trustworthy, and that there are no concerns about her practice. The reviewing Panel may also be assisted by evidence of remediation in the areas of confidentiality and data protection, safeguarding, and professional ethics, and a reflective piece which demonstrates that the Registrant has fully reflected on the findings of the previous Panel and this Panel.
Order: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Lisa Bullock for a period of 9 months from the date this order comes into effect.
History of Hearings for Mrs Lisa H Bullock
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|11/12/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Hearing has not yet been held|
|26/03/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|