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During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Liverpool City Council, you:
1. Accessed the Liquid Logic record of Person A without professional reason and/or authorisation to do so on:
a) 18 September 2015;
b) 24 December 2015;
c) 12 January 2016;
d) 31 March 2016.
2. Accessed the Liquid Logic record of Person B without professional reason and/or authorisation to do so on:
a) 12 January 2016;
b) 31 March 2016;
c) 01 April 2016;
d) 11 April 2016.
3. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 2 constitute misconduct.
4. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of Service
1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, by first class post on 26 February 2018, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register. The Notice of Hearing had also been sent to the Registrant by email on the same date. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).
Proceeding in Absence
2. Having determined that service of the Notice of Hearing had been properly effected, the Panel went on to consider whether to proceed in the Registrant’s absence, as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct & Competence Rules. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in Absence”.
3. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:
a) The Panel noted that the Registrant, in a letter dated 29 April 2018, stated, ‘I am writing to apologise and to advise to the HCPC panel that I have decided not to attend the scheduled hearing on 04/05/18, I would like the panel to know that I have not taken the decision lightly…based on my experience in going through the disciplinary process that was held by my employer Liverpool City Council, this has influenced my decision not to attend this hearing and it is down to the emotional impact that I would surly have to endure during the FTP hearing procedure. (sic).’ Although the Registrant’s letter referred to an incorrect date, the Panel was provided with email correspondence between herself and her union representative which referred to the correct hearing dates. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and her right to participate in the proceedings.
b) There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that she would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this final hearing would serve no useful purpose.
c) The HCPC has made arrangements for three witnesses to give evidence during this hearing. In the absence of any reason to re-schedule the hearing, the Panel was satisfied that the witnesses should not be inconvenienced by an unnecessary delay and should give evidence whilst the events are reasonably fresh in their minds.
d) The Panel recognised that there may some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to make oral submissions with regards to her current fitness to practise. However, the Panel noted that she had provided the Panel with written submissions which mitigated any potential disadvantage.
e) As this is a substantive hearing, there is a strong public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously. It is also in the Registrant’s interest that this hearing is considered as soon as possible.
Application to Amend the Allegation
3. Prior to opening the HCPC’s case, Mr Ferson made an application for the Allegation to be amended by correcting the typographical errors with regard to ‘Person A’ and ‘Person B’ which had been transposed and correction of the date in Particulars 1(c) and 2(a). The Registrant had been put on notice of the proposed amendments in a letter, dated 30 November 2017, and no objection had been raised at that time or since.
4. The Panel determined that the particulars should be amended as requested. The Panel concluded that the amendments were minor in that they:
• are typographical errors;
• avoid ambiguity;
• do not alter the substance or meaning of the Allegation as originally drafted and do not widen the HCPC’s case.
5. The Panel was satisfied that no injustice would be caused by making these amendments as they accurately reflect the HCPC’s case. In forming this view, the Panel took into account the fact that the Registrant had been put on notice of the HCPC’s application five months in advance and had made no representations with regard to the proposed amendments.
6. The Registrant was employed as a Grade 7 Social Worker within the Speke Neighbourhood Team at Liverpool City Council (the Council).
7. On either 25 April 2016 or 26 April 2016, the Registrant's Team Leader – LC, was reviewing the Registrant's work tray on Liquid Logic, the Council's electronic record keeping system. She was undertaking a review to see what work could be allocated to other people, as the Registrant had reported feeling overwhelmed. Whilst doing so, LC noticed there was an open case in the Registrant's work tray with the same surname as the Registrant. The name displayed was Person A. LC was advised by a colleague that Person A was the Registrant’s sister-in-law. The Registrant later advised that Person A was in fact her father's second wife. However, the demographic information available on Liquid Logic identified that Person A was the mother and carer of Person B who would therefore be either the Registrant's niece or her half-sister.
8. Reports were requested from Witness AC, a senior analyst at the Council. These reports indicated that between January 2015 and April of 2016, the Registrant repeatedly accessed the records of her family members.
Assessment of Witnesses
9. The Panel heard oral evidence from the following HCPC witnesses:
Witness PS, Investigating Officer
10. Witness PS is a Team Leader at the Council and on 13 May 2016 was appointed to conduct an internal investigation into concerns that the Registrant may have abused her professional position by accessing the records of a member of her family. He informed the Panel that at the time he conducted his investigation it was thought that the Registrant had accessed the records of Person B on a single occasion.
11. The Panel found Witness PS to be a credible and reliable witness. He provided the Panel with a clear explanation of the remit of his investigation, the relevant Data Protection Policy and the expected use of the Liquid Logic system by employees. He also described the conflict of interest concerns raised by the alleged data protection breaches.
Witness SG, Former Locality Manager
12. Witness SG was employed by the Council as a Locality Manager until March 2017 and in that role was responsible for the operational management and quality of care delivered in Liverpool.
13. Witness SG assisted the Panel by outlining how the central electronic record storage system works, his understanding of the training requirements and the reasons why workers should not access the records of family members or colleagues. The Panel had no reason to doubt the credibility or reliability of his evidence.
Witness AM, Senior Analyst
14. Witness AM is a Senior Analyst for the Council. He informed the Panel that he conducted an audit of Liquid Logic and produced an audit report into the accessing of Person A and Person B’s records.
15. The Panel found Witness AM to be a credible and reliable witness. He outlined the steps required to access the system and the activities which would generate an audit trail. Witness AM also explained the limits of the system.
Decision on facts
16. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC and that the individual particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved, if the Panel was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities. The Panel noted that the Registrant made partial admissions in her written submissions, dated 29 April 2018. However, no formal admissions were made, and the Panel proceeded on the basis that the HCPC was required to prove the Allegation in its entirety. The Panel was aware that the Registrant did not have to prove or disprove anything and drew no adverse inferences from her absence.
17. In reaching its decision, the Panel took into account all of the documentary evidence including the written submissions provided by the Registrant. The Panel also took into account the oral evidence of the HCPC witnesses and the oral submissions of Mr Ferson on behalf of the HCPC.
18. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
Particular 1 – Found Proved (in its entirety)
‘Accessed the Liquid Logic record of Person B without professional reason and/or authorisation to do so on:
a) 18 September 2015;
b) 24 December 2015;
c) 12 January 2015;
d) 31 March 2016.
19. The Panel took into account the evidence of Witnesses PS, SG and AM with regard to the Liquid Logic electronic recording system used by members of staff to allocate and complete work on behalf of the Council.
20. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness PS that when he interviewed the Registrant, on 4 August 2016, as part of his internal investigation, he was not aware that she had accessed Person B’s records multiple times. Witness AM explained that he was instructed to conduct an audit of Liquid Logic to determine who had accessed Person A and Person B’s records and in particular whether the Registrant had done so. His audit report was dated 5 May 2016. The Panel was satisfied that the audit revealed that the Registrant had accessed Person B’s records on 18 September 2015, 24 December 2015, 12 January 2015 and 31 March 2016.
21. The Panel noted that the Registrant admitted in her written submissions that she had accessed the records of Person B, who she described as her half-sister, whilst under a substantial amount of personal stress. During her interview with Witness PS, the Registrant indicated that she had accessed Person B’s records by mistake whilst searching for her sister’s name. The Panel concluded that this was not a credible explanation as the Registrant had accessed Person B’s records on four separate occasions during a seven-month period (September 2015 - March 2016). In reaching this conclusion, the Panel noted that the Registrant had not taken the opportunity to provide any explanation for the multiple occasions that Person B’s records were assessed. In the absence of a credible explanation, the Panel concluded that there was no professional reason for the Registrant to access Person B’s records and that therefore these records were assessed without authorisation.
Particular 2 – Found Proved (in its entirety)
‘Accessed the Liquid Logic record of Person A without professional reason and/or authorisation to do so on:
a) 12 January 2015;
b) 31 March 2016;
c) 01 April 2016;
d) 11 April 2016.
22. The Panel took into account its findings in relation to Particular 1. The Panel was satisfied that Witness AM’s audit revealed that the Registrant had accessed Person A’s records on 12 January 2015, 31 March 2016, 1 April 2016 and 11 April 2016.
23. The Panel concluded that in the absence of a credible explanation there was no professional reason for the Registrant to access Person B’s records and that therefore these records were assessed without authorisation.
24. In view of the factual findings, the Panel went on to consider grounds. The Panel was aware that determining the issue of misconduct is a matter of judgement; there is no burden or standard of proof.
25. In considering the issue of misconduct, the Panel bore in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2)  1 AC 311 where it was stated that:
“Misconduct is 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 … practitioner in the particular circumstances. The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession ... Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”
26. The Panel took into account the oral submissions of Mr Ferson on behalf of the HCPC and followed the advice of the Legal Assessor.
27. The Registrant breached data protection and confidentiality requirements, which are fundamental to the role of a registered social worker. These breaches were for the purpose of furthering the Registrant’s own needs, as there was no professional justification for accessing these records and therefore the access was not authorised.
28. The Panel noted that there was no evidence of harm caused to Person A and Person B. However, the Council was potentially exposed to reputational damage. Trust and confidence amongst professional social workers is extremely important; employers should be able to rely on team members to act with integrity at all times.
29. The Panel considered the 2012 and 2016 versions of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct breached a number of standards including:
HCPC Standards 2012
2 – You must respect the confidentiality of service users.
3 – You must keep high standards of personal conduct as well as professional conduct.
HCPC Standards 2016
5.1 - You must treat information about service users as confidential.
9.1 – You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.
30. The Panel was aware that a breach of the standards alone does not necessarily constitute misconduct. However, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour fell far below the standards expected of a registered social worker. The Registrant’s behaviour cannot be described as a momentary failure or a temporary lapse of judgement as it formed part of a pattern of behaviour over a significant period of time.
31. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct amounted to misconduct.
Decision on impairment
32. Having found misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into account the HCPC Practice Note: “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
33. In determining current impairment, the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest:
• The ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
• The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
34. The Panel took the view that the factual findings raise significant concerns. The Registrant abused her position of trust, demonstrated a persistent lack of judgment and a disregard for the interests of Person A and Person B.
35. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.
36. The Panel noted that the events took place between 2015 and 2016 and that during the intervening period the Registrant has continued to work as a registered social worker. Although the Registrant submitted a letter in which she expressed regret, remorse and shame, the Panel was unable to assess whether the Registrant had developed meaningful insight. There was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant fully appreciated the consequences of her actions on her employer or that the Registrant had properly reflected on the impact of her behaviour on her profession which legitimately expects high standards of integrity at all times. The Registrant indicated in her letter that her poor judgement was as a consequence of her own health issues, the health of close family members and bereavement. However, there was no clear explanation as to why she was accessing the records of her family members and why she accessed them on multiple occasions.
37. The Panel recognised that demonstrating remediation following a significant breach of trust is particularly difficult, as probity issues are reliant on attitude, which can often only be inferred from conduct. However, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s actions are remediable.
38. The Panel concluded that as an experienced social worker the Registrant knew or ought to have known, the importance of respecting the privacy of Person A and Person B and observing the data protection principles relating to the accessing of confidential information. The Panel also concluded that the Registrant, knew or ought to have known, that it was wholly inappropriate for her to access the records of family members.
39. The Panel concluded that for these reasons the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired based on the personal component.
40. In considering the public component, the Panel had regard to the important public policy issues which include the need to maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
41. Members of the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a social worker had accessed the confidential records of family members without authorisation. It is critically important that employers, colleagues and service users can rely on the integrity of social workers at all times.
42. A significant aspect of the public component is upholding proper standards of behaviour. The Registrant’s conduct fell far below the standard expected of a registered practitioner and the Panel concluded that it is not acceptable for social workers to access confidential information for an improper purpose. The Panel took the view that the Registrant has brought the profession into disrepute and has breached a fundamental tenet of the profession by putting her own interests above the interests of her employer, her colleagues and service users.
43. In all the circumstances, the Panel determined that public trust and confidence would be undermined if a finding of impairment is not made.
44. The Panel concludes that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.
Decision on sanction
45. Mr Ferson, on behalf of the HCPC, referred the Panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy. He was neutral as to what sanction, if any, should be imposed. However, he suggested that taking no action, mediation and a Caution Order would be either insufficient or inappropriate. He outlined the aggravating and mitigating factors and reminded the Panel of its findings on impairment.
46. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction is not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The public interest includes maintaining public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of severity.
47. The Panel had regard to its findings in relation to impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise on grounds of misconduct. The Panel also had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and took into account the submissions made by Mr Ferson, on behalf of the HCPC.
48. In determining the appropriate sanction, if any, the Panel took into account the aggravating and mitigating factors. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:
• The Registrant’s unauthorised and inappropriate access of Person A and Person B’s records was repeated and persisted for a significant period of time;
• The breach of confidentiality represented a fundamental departure from the basic principles of the social work profession and its position of trust;
• There was a potential risk of reputational damage to the Council.
The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:
• The Registrant is of previous good character as she has had no previous regulatory findings made against her;
• The Registrant has expressed remorse which the Panel accepted as genuine;
• The breaches of confidentiality occurred during a period when the Registrant was experiencing particularly difficult personal circumstances.
• The registrant’s actions did not result in any gain or detriment to Person A or Person B.
49. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, to take no action on her registration would be wholly inappropriate. Although the Panel accepted that the Registrant’s personal circumstances were particularly stressful due to her own health concerns, the health concerns of close family members and bereavement, it was not satisfied that it amounted to exceptional circumstances which justified no action. In the absence of exceptional circumstances, the Panel concluded that taking no action would be insufficient to uphold and maintain public confidence in the profession.
50. The Panel went on to consider a Caution Order. The Panel noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which states:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”
51. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s misconduct could not be described as minor as her behaviour represented a significant departure from the principles of information governance which is fundamental to the role of a registered social worker. However, although the data protection breaches were repeated on 8 separate occasions during an 18-month period, they were limited in nature to the extent that they occurred in relation to a discrete set of circumstances. The Panel noted that prior to the data protection breaches, the Registrant had an unblemished 26-year career with the Council. The Panel accepted that from 2012 onwards, the Registrant experienced difficult personal circumstances. The Panel noted that these events occurred towards the end of 2015 and early 2016. The Panel was mindful that these events do not excuse the Registrant’s behaviour but do go some way to explain the underlying cause of her lapse in judgement. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s circumstances were explained in the letter from her GP dated 23 April 2018 and that in her letter dated 29 April 2018, she stated, ‘I am in a much better frame of mind and the future looks bright regarding family matters…’ In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that the discrete set of circumstances that occurred at the time that Person A and Person B’s records were inappropriately accessed is unlikely to be repeated and as a consequence, the risk of repetition is sufficiently low to justify imposing a sanction towards the lower end of the sanction spectrum.
52. The Panel concluded that given the nature of the misconduct, it would not be appropriate to impose restrictions on the Registrant’s practice as attitudinal deficiencies are not generally amenable to conditions of practice and there are no service user safety concerns. Furthermore, although the Panel could have formulated conditions requiring the Registrant to provide a reflective piece to specifically address her current lack of insight and imposed a condition that she attend an information governance course, it concluded that such conditions would not be necessary. The Panel was provided with written confirmation from her union representative that the Registrant continues to be employed by the Council. In her current role as a social worker, there is a legitimate expectation that the Registrant will be subject to annual appraisal, mandatory information governance training and professional supervision, which is an opportunity for her to reflect on and develop her practice. The Panel concluded that it would not be appropriate to impose conditions that require the Registrant to do what she would be expected to do in any event.
53. The Panel determined that the public interest could be met with the imposition of a Caution Order. It concluded that, given the particular circumstances of this case, no restriction of the Registrant’s practice is necessary and that a Caution Order would send a signal to the Registrant, the profession and the wider public, re-affirming the high standards of conduct and behaviour expected of registered social workers at all times. The Panel was also satisfied that a Caution Order is proportionate and strikes a proper balance between the need to mark the gravity of the Registrant’s actions and her long and unblemished career together with the mitigating circumstances. Furthermore, the public interest is best met, in these circumstances, by not depriving the public of an otherwise competent and dedicated social work practitioner.
54. The Panel determined that the Caution Order should be imposed for 4 years to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct and to maintain the public’s confidence in the regulatory process. The Panel noted that if the Registrant were to be subject to another adverse finding by her regulatory body within the next 4 years, that panel would be informed of the Caution Order and would be able to take it into account in determining what further sanction, if any, to impose. In determining the length of the Order, the Panel took into account the absence of a full and considered explanation from the Registrant and her developing insight together with the absence of a reference from her employer.
55. The Panel also took the view that as the risk of repetition was sufficiently low, despite the absence of full insight, a Suspension Order would be punitive in nature and disproportionate, as it would deprive the profession of an otherwise competent social worker.
Order: That the Registrar is directed to record a Caution Order against the name of Pamela Rawlins-Chase on the Register for a period of 4 years.
No notes available
History of Hearings for Pamela Rawlins-Chase
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|02/05/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Caution|