Ms Lucy May McGarrity

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW78229

Interim Order: Imposed on 06 Jun 2017

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 11:30 30/05/2018 End: 16:00 30/05/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

 

Allegation (as amended):

 

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Social Worker;

 

1. On the 11 December 2015 at Luton Crown Court, you were convicted of two counts of Theft.

 

2. During the course of your employment by Bedford Borough Council, on 25 February 2014, you asked an adoptive family for a personal loan.

 

3. During the course of your registration and/or application with Healthcare Locums Limited (HCL):

 

a. You did not disclose that you worked for Bedford Borough Council in 2014.

 

b. You stated that you were on a ‘career gap’ between January 2014 and April 2014, which was not the case.

 

c. You did not state that you were the subject of a HCPC investigation regarding your fitness to practise.

 

d. You did not disclose that you had been dismissed by Bedford Borough Council.

 

4. Your actions described in paragraph 3 were dishonest.

 

5. Your actions descried in paragraphs 2-4 constitute misconduct.

 

6. By reason of your conviction described in paragraph 1 and/or your misconduct described in paragraphs 2-4, your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Service

1. The Panel is satisfied on the basis of the documentation which it has been shown, that the Registrant has been served with notice of today’s hearing in accordance with the Rules.   The Panel has seen a letter dated 30 April 2018 which was sent by first class post to the Registrant at her registered address and also by e-mail on the same date; this letter gave notice of today's review hearing.  

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

2. The Panel considered whether to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.  The Panel has decided that it is in the interests of justice to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.   In reaching this decision, the Panel was mindful that it should exercise utmost care before doing so.  It took into account the matters set out in the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant, and also received and accepted legal advice. 

3. It noted that the Registrant had contacted the HCPC by email dated 26 May 2018.   In the email, the Registrant indicated that she would be unable to attend today’s hearing due to work commitments.  The Registrant indicated that she was aware that the review hearing had to be conducted within a particular time-scale, and that if the review hearing was to proceed in her absence, she wished to prepare a written statement for that hearing.  The Panel also noted that the Registrant did not ask for an adjournment. The HCPC sent an email dated 29 May 2018 to the Registrant in her written statement offering her the option of attending via telephone and indicating what she should do if she wanted to do so.   The email also provided details of how the Registrant could send a written statement for the Panel.   The Panel noted that the Registrant did not take up the opportunity to attend today’s hearing via telephone but has provided a statement in which she has said that the Panel can telephone her if they have any   questions arising out of her statement.   The Registrant was contacted on the number she had provided to see if she was able to attend via telephone.  The Registrant indicated that she was at work and unable to attend via telephone. The Registrant had offered in her written statement to be available to answer any questions the Panel may have, but had not understood that this was not a possible course of action. 

4. In the circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant has voluntarily waived her right to be present at today’s hearing and is fully aware that the hearing may proceed in her absence.

5. The Panel also takes the view that there is a clear public interest in notified mandatory review hearings being heard expeditiously and at the allotted time.  

Background:

6. The Registrant commenced employment with Bedford Borough Council (the Council) in June 2013.   On 26 February 2014 a foster carer contacted the Adoption Team Manager at the Council in relation to the Registrant.   The foster carer informed the Adoption Manager that the Registrant had sent her an email requesting a personal loan.   This matter was investigated internally and other concerns about the Registrant’s conduct were noted.   These concerns were regarding financial impropriety.   The Registrant ceased employment with the Council shortly after this.

7. On 8 April 2014, the Registrant applied to Healthcare Locums Workforce Solutions Limited (HCL) for temporary social work positions.   She successfully obtained a position with Birmingham City Council.   On 26 August 2015, HCL received an email alert from the HCPC regarding all recent cases and decisions taken by a committee of the HCPC.   HCL receive these emails on a regular basis as part of a subscription to HCPC fitness to practise alerts.   The email on 26 August 2015 detailed that the Registrant had been issued with an Interim Suspension Order on 17 July 2015.   HCL informed Birmingham City Council and investigated the matter internally.

8. The police were informed about the financial concerns which had been uncovered by the Council.  These involved allegations of theft from service users who were children.   The Registrant was their allocated Social Worker.  As a result, the Registrant was arrested and charged.   On 11 December 2015, the Registrant pleaded guilty to two counts of theft at Luton Crown Court.   She was sentenced to a community order with a supervision requirement.

9. At the substantive hearing, although the Registrant was unable to attend due to ill health, she did admit all the facts and that her actions amounted to misconduct.   The panel found her fitness to practise was impaired, noting that she had shown some insight by her admissions, but had failed to demonstrate her understanding of the effect or potential effect on vulnerable Service Users and the effect upon the reputation of the profession.  The panel also noted that the Registrant had not provided any evidence of steps she had taken to remedy her misconduct.   It concluded that there was a likelihood of repetition.    The panel also found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired on wider public interest grounds, deciding that the circumstances of the conviction and the behaviour that led to the finding of misconduct were so serious that public confidence in the profession and in its regulation would be undermined if there was no such finding.  

10. The panel imposed a 12-month Suspension Order and recommended that when this order came to be reviewed, the reviewing panel may be assisted by the Registrant’s attendance at the hearing and the following:

i. A reflective piece from the Registrant which fully addresses the impact her conduct had upon vulnerable Service Users and the reputation of the Social Work profession;

ii. Information as to what support networks she has, or has put into place, to deal with her challenging personal circumstances;

iii. How she has maintained her skills as a Social Worker;

iv. Any up to date references and testimonials.

Decision:
 
11. In reaching its decision, the Panel has taken account of the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”.    It has had regard to the submissions made by Ms Wills for the HCPC and to the written statement provided by the Registrant.    It has received and accepted legal advice.

12. The Panel first considered the personal component relating to impairment and whether the behaviour that had led to the convictions and the misconduct found in this case had been remedied, and whether it was likely to be repeated.   

13. The Panel concurred with the substantive hearing panel that the misconduct identified took place over a long period of time and that it was conduct which went to the heart of the Registrant’s professional responsibilities.  

14. The Panel has considered the extent to which the Registrant’s limited insight and understanding of the implications of her conviction and misconduct on Service Users and the wider public interest has developed.   The Panel has looked for independent evidence that the Registrant has taken steps to remedy that behaviour and misconduct.   The Panel is of the view that whilst the Registrant has engaged with these proceedings, this has been on a superficial level.  She still has only limited insight and she has not produced any independent evidence to show that she has taken any steps to remedy either the behaviour that led to the convictions, or her misconduct.  She has not shown that she has fully reflected on, and understood, the effect or potential effect of her conduct on vulnerable Service Users and on the reputation of the Social Work profession and the wider public interest.  As a result, the Panel cannot exclude the risk of repetition.

15. The Panel also noted that the Registrant has not worked as a Social Worker for some years now and there is no independent evidence that she has maintained her skills and knowledge.      

16. With regard to the wider public interest the Panel is satisfied that confidence in the Social Work profession would be undermined if no finding of impairment was made today.   A reasonable and informed person aware of the serious dishonesty that led to the conviction and to the misconduct, would expect a finding of impairment to be made so that Service Users are not put at risk, the public’s confidence in the Social Work profession is maintained, and proper professional standards are upheld.  

17. The Panel has therefore determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired on both the personal and public components.

18. The Panel then considered the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case.  It has received and accepted legal advice and has taken into account the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.   

19. The Panel considered its powers under Article 30 (1) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 (the 2001 Order) and the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness.  It has had in mind the principle of proportionality and weighed the interests of the public to be protected with those of the Registrant to practise without restrictions. It has also borne in mind that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public.   

20. The Panel is satisfied that to make no order or to impose a Caution Order would be wholly inappropriate in this case as each would result in the Registrant being able to resume unrestricted practice, neither would it provide any protection for Service Users, nor address the wider public interest concerns. The serious nature of the dishonest behaviour that led to the convictions and to the findings of misconduct has not yet been remedied.  The Panel considers that there is therefore still a risk of repetition and so it is not safe to return the Registrant to unrestricted practise.

21. The Panel concurs with the view of the substantive panel that a Conditions of Practice Order is not appropriate in this case.  The Panel recognises the difficulty in demonstrating that dishonest conduct has been remedied.   It also recognises that whilst it may be possible to devise conditions that would address such conduct which are workable and appropriate, and which would also provide the necessary degree of protection for Service Users, this is only possible where there is clear evidence of an appropriate level of insight, remorse, reflection and steps taken towards remediation.   The Panel is not satisfied that any of these have yet been demonstrated to an appropriate level by the Registrant such that it would be safe for her to return to conditional practice.

22. The Panel then turned to consider a Suspension Order.   It was referred to and took account of the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy paragraph 39 which states
“Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice order would provide insufficient public  protection…”.  

23. As the Panel has concluded that neither of those orders would provide sufficient public protection, the only appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case is to extend the current Suspension Order for a further period of 6 months.   The Panel has decided that the period of 6 months will provide the Registrant with what may be a final opportunity to demonstrate proper insight, properly reflect on the matters that led to these proceedings and to show by independent evidence that she has taken steps to remediate.   The Panel noted that she had already had 12 months during which to show this but has failed to do so.

24. The Panel referred to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy paragraph 41 which states :
“If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable or unwilling to resolve his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, if there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate”.

25. The Panel considered whether it should make a striking off order in this case.   It takes the view that it is now very much up to the Registrant to demonstrate that she is not “unable or unwilling” to take the appropriate steps to remedy the behaviour that led to her convictions and misconduct.   It decided that at this time to make a striking off order would not be proportionate.

26. Whilst the Panel cannot bind the next reviewing panel, it recommends that it may be assisted by the following:

1. The Registrant attending the hearing either in person or by telephone

2. Independent evidence of any work undertaken in any capacity since the substantive hearing

3. Independent evidence of any steps she has taken to maintain her knowledge and skills by way of training courses and/or continuing professional development

4. Signed and dated references or testimonials

5. A more detailed reflective piece which addresses the issues raised by her convictions, and also the misconduct in relation to the impact on not only vulnerable service users, but also her work colleagues and the wider reputation of the profession; the reflective piece should also address the breaches of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics and the breaches of the Standards of proficiency for Social Workers in England

6. Information about the strategies she has put in place for managing her financial affairs.

Order

Order:   The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Lucy May McGarrity for a further period of 6 months on the expiry of the existing order.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 5 July 2018.
 
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 5 January 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Lucy May McGarrity

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/12/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
30/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
05/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
10/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension