Mr Paul J Halfacre
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Your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of your physical and/or mental health.
Potential for Conflict of Interest
1. The Registrant member of the Panel disclosed in the hearing that he recalled an Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) with the surname of the Registrant, from his time in the military around 20 years earlier. He explained that he had never met or worked with the ODP in question, but others had described him ‘as a character’. He was not able to recall if the first name was that of the Registrant or another first name.
2. Mr Dite, on behalf of the HCPC identified that the medical expert report indicated that although the Registrant had been in the military, he had left in 1988, and that it appeared that the Registrant had not been in the military in the role of a qualified ODP, but had subsequently qualified as an ODP. He submitted that a member of the public would not consider that there was any apparent bias in the registrant member of the Panel sitting on the Panel in the Registrant’s case.
3. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that the test was as set out in the case of Porter v Magill  2 AC 357, namely ‘whether the fair minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased’.
4. The Panel was of the view that it was able to function as a fair and independent tribunal and that it would be perceived by a fair minded observer as being able to do so. It considered that it was unlikely from the information that the Registrant and the ODP in the military were one and the same person because the Registrant had left the army in 1988 at which time he was not a qualified ODP. It appeared to be a coincidence of surname. The Panel considered that even if they were the same person, the Registrant member of the Panel had not met nor worked with the ODP, and the period for which their time in the military overlapped was in excess of 20 years ago. As such the Panel was satisfied that there was no possibility of the Panel being influenced by bias, nor, on an objective appraisal of the information, did it give rise to a legitimate fear that the Panel may not be impartial.
5. On 2 March 2018 the HCPC sent notice of this hearing by first class post to the Registrant’s registered address. A copy of the notice was also sent to a second ‘care of’ address at which the Registrant had informed the HCPC he could be reached. The notice contained the required particulars, including the time, date and venue of the hearing.
6. Having heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel was satisfied on the documentary evidence provided, that the Registrant had been served notice of this hearing in accordance with the Rules.
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
7. Mr Dite applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who advised that the Panel’s discretion to proceed in the Registrant’s absence should only be exercised with the utmost care and caution.
8. The Panel was satisfied that good notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant’s registered address by letter, dated 2 March 2018 and a further copy was sent to a second address at which the Registrant had informed the HCPC he would be able to be reached. The Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had made all reasonable efforts to serve the notice on the Registrant, such that he had been provided with the means of knowledge as to when and where his hearing was to take place.
9. The Panel had regard to the chronology of significant events. The Panel was satisfied from all the information before it, that the Registrant was aware of these proceedings and specifically of the hearing today (3 May 2018). It was of the view that the voicemail message left by the Registrant on 2 May 2018 indicated that he had decided not to attend and that his absence was voluntary. Further, he had not requested an adjournment. In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant had waived his right to attend. The Panel also considered that there was a public interest in proceeding with this case expeditiously, noting that the matter had been referred to the HCPC in April 2016 and that there had been a previously adjourned substantive hearing date in January 2018. Accordingly, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
Hearing to be heard in private
11. Mr Dite applied for the whole of the hearing to be held in private, given that the hearing was to be held before a Panel of the Health Committee and that all of the evidence to be adduced related to the Registrant’s health.
12. Having heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel determined to hold the entirety of the hearing in private in order to protect the private life of the Registrant. The Panel had regard to the fact that it had been convened as a Panel of the Health Committee, the allegation faced by the Registrant was that his fitness to practise was impaired by reason of his physical and/or mental health and there was no part of the evidence to be adduced which did not relate to the health or personal circumstances of the Registrant. In these circumstances the Panel determined that the information was of such a sensitive and personal nature that it should not be in the public domain, and that it was not possible to hear any part of the hearing in public.
13. The Registrant is an Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) registered with the HCPC. He had been working as an ODP at the North Downs Hospital, Surrey (the Hospital) since 2013.
Decision on Facts:
14. On behalf of the HCPC, the Panel heard telephone evidence from a witness. The Panel was also provided with a documentary exhibits bundle, which included a copy of the referral to the HCPC.
15. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In respect of the facts, the Panel understood that the burden of proof is on the HCPC and that the required standard of proof is the civil standard, whereby it is more likely than not that the Registrant suffers from the health condition. In respect of expert evidence, the Panel understood that it is free to accept or reject the opinion evidence of an expert.
16. The Registrant did not attend the substantive hearing. The Panel did not hold his non-attendance against him at this fact finding stage.
17. The Panel considered the evidence.
18. Having regard to all the evidence the Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant suffers from a health condition. The Panel therefore found that fact proved.
Decision on Statutory Ground:
19. The Panel was satisfied that the health condition is a statutory ground in itself, by which a Registrant's fitness to practise may be impaired.
Decision on Impairment:
20. In considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, the Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Impairment and in particular the two elements of impairment, namely the ‘personal component’ and the ‘public component’.
21. The Panel considered the ‘personal component’.
22. In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired in respect of the personal component.
23. The Panel considered the public component.
24. In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired in respect of the public component.
25. Accordingly, it was the Panel’s judgement that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired in respect of both the personal and public components.
Decision on Sanction:
26. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his health condition, the Panel next went on to consider whether it was impaired to a degree which required action to be taken on his registration by way of the imposition of a sanction.
27. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and it exercised its independent judgement. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (the Policy) and considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel was aware that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the wider public interest, which includes upholding standards within the profession, together with maintaining public confidence in the profession and its regulatory process.
28. The Panel identified what it considered to be the principal mitigating and aggravating factors in this case.
29. The Panel considered the sanctions available, beginning with the least restrictive. The Panel did not consider that the options of taking no further action, mediation or the sanction of a Caution Order to be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case.
30. The Panel next considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order but it was not satisfied that such an Order would protect the public or address the wider public interest.
31. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order and concluded that this was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest.
32. The Panel considers that the length of the Order should be for 12 months.
33. Although the Panel had no information as to the Registrant’s current financial situation, it acknowledged that such an Order could have an impact upon him. However, the Panel determined that the interests of protecting the public and upholding confidence in the profession outweighs the interests of the Registrant.
The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr Paul J Halfacre for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry.
Right of Appeal:
You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.
Under Article 29(10) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you. The Panel’s order will not take effect until the appeal period has expired or, if you appeal, until that appeal is disposed of or withdrawn.
Interim Order Application following Imposition of Sanction:
Proceeding with the application in the Registrant’s absence
34. Mr Dite indicated that he wished to make an application for an Interim Order and submitted that it should proceed in the Registrant’s absence. He submitted that the Registrant had been given notice within the notice of hearing, dated 2 March 2018, that the HCPC may make such an application at the conclusion of the hearing, should a sanction of conditions of practice or above be imposed.
35. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and decided that it was appropriate to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. It was satisfied that the Registrant had been given clear notice within the notice of hearing, dated 2 March 2018, of the HCPC’s intention to apply for an Interim Order if conditions or a suspension were imposed as a sanction.
36. The Panel considered that the same factors applied for this application as applied for its decision to proceed in absence in respect of the substantive hearing, there having been no material change of circumstances, aside from the allegation having been found to be well founded. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily waived his right to attend and it was in the public interest to proceed.
Interim Order Application
37. Mr Dite made an application for an Interim Order of Suspension for 18 months to cover the appeal period of 28 days before the substantive Suspension Order comes into effect, or if the Registrant were to appeal, the period of the appeal.
38. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the Practice Note on Interim Orders, in that it must undertake a comprehensive review of the available information in order to conduct a risk assessment.
39. The Panel considered that an Interim Order was necessary on public protection grounds, for the same reasons as given for the substantive Order.
40. The Panel concluded that, an Interim Order was required to maintain public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator.
41. The Panel also considered that an Interim Order was in the Registrant’s own interest.
42. The Panel first considered an Interim Conditions of Practice Order, but for the same reasons as set out for the substantive hearing, it concluded that an Interim Conditions of Practice Order was not the appropriate response.
43. In all the circumstances the Panel determined to make an Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months. In deciding to impose this length, it took account of the fact that if the Registrant were to appeal, that process may take a considerable period of time.
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, being otherwise in the public interest and the Registrant’s own 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.