Deborah Johnson

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW93641

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 28/11/2018 End: 17:00 30/11/2018

Location: Mercure Hull Grange Park Hotel, Grange Park Lane, Willerby, Hull, HU10 6EA,

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

Allegation (as amended at Substantive Hearing)

Whilst registered as a Social Worker you:

  1. Were dismissed from Hull City Council on 17 November 2015 following a disciplinary hearing but you did not declare that you had been subject to disciplinary action in the following application forms for East Riding of Yorkshire Council:

(a)  Application for Youth and Support Practitioner Level 1, dated on or before 9 December 2015;

(b)  Application for Family Coordinator, dated on or before 24 April 2016;

(c)   Application for Care Coordinator (Safeguarding) in or before November 2016.

  1. You attended HCPC proceedings in relation to your own fitness to practise on 12 January 2017 but you advised your manager, Person A, that you had been requested to attend the HCPC to provide support to a colleague or words to that effect.
  2. Your actions described in paragraphs 1 and 2 were dishonest.
  3. The matters described in paragraphs 1 to 3 amount to misconduct.
  4. By reason of that misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Proceeding in private

1. The Panel heard that matters relating to the Registrant’s health and private life were to be discussed as part of this hearing. Mr Smith submitted that it was appropriate that parts of the hearing be held in private where the Registrant’s private life was to be discussed. He said that it would only be relevant when Mrs Johnson gave her evidence and would not affect the HCPC’s evidence. Mr Chalmers did not object to the application.

2. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and it noted Rule 10(1)(a) of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Procedure Rules 2003 (“Procedural Rules”) whereby matters pertaining to the health and/or private life of the Registrant, the complainant, any person giving evidence or of any Patient or Client should be heard in private. The Panel agreed the parts of the hearing, where reference was to be made to the Registrant’s private life, should be heard in private.

Amendment of Allegation

3. Mr Chalmers, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for minor amendments to be made to the Allegation.  Mr Chalmers submitted that the amendments sought were consistent with the evidence before the Investigating Committee. He said that the evidence was not clear that the date in Particular 1 was accurate, and that the amendment, of adding the words “on or before” to the dates set out in particulars 1(a) and 1(b), and the words “in or before” for particular 1(c), would correct that difficulty without affecting the substance of the charge.

4. Mr Smith, on behalf of the Registrant, did not object to the amendment. He submitted that the amendments were appropriate.

5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that it was open to the Panel to amend the allegation, provided the Panel was satisfied that no injustice would be caused by the amendments. The Panel considered that the amendments sought did not change the substance of the allegation. The amendments did clarify the allegation and would not cause injustice, as it is always preferable that allegations are as clear as possible so that registrants are clear what is alleged against them in order for them to respond. The Panel therefore allowed the amendments to be made. The amended Allegation is as set out above.

Background

6. The Registrant is an HCPC registered Social Worker and was employed at East Riding of Yorkshire Council ('the Council”) from 13 June 2016 to 15 August 2017, firstly as a Family Coordinator within the Children's Services team and then as a Care Coordinator within the Council's Adult Safeguarding team. Both positions were non-qualified roles. The Registrant was line managed when in the latter role by KB, the Adult Safeguarding Team Manager.

7. Prior to joining the Council, the Registrant was employed as a Social Worker at Hull City Council and subsequently dismissed in November 2015. The Registrant failed to disclose this dismissal from Hull City Council to the Council on three job applications, including her successful job applications for the Family Coordinator and Care Coordinator roles. On 12 January 2017 and 13 January 2017, the Registrant attended a two-day HCPC Fitness to Practise hearing against her in relation to matters arising from her dismissal by Hull City Council. The Registrant allegedly told KB that she was attending HCPC proceedings brought against a friend in order to give evidence. The Registrant’s subsequent suspension by the HCPC came to light in April 2017 or May 2017 following the publication of a newspaper article in the Hull Daily Mail. DB, the Area Manager, was appointed the Investigating Officer to look into the matter. On 15 August 2017, the Registrant resigned from the Council before the investigation was completed.

Decision on Facts

8. The Panel considered all the evidence in this case together with the admissions made by the Registrant at the start of proceedings. It heard the submissions made by Mr Chalmers on behalf of the HCPC, and by Mr Smith on behalf of the Registrant.

9. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who reminded the Panel that the burden of proof rests with the HCPC, and that the Registrant need not disprove anything. The Legal Assessor also reminded the Panel that the standard of proof is the civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities.

10. The Panel heard oral evidence from the following witnesses on behalf of the HCPC:

• DB, Area Manager of East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

• KB, Team Manager of the Safeguarding Adults team at East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

11. The Panel found their evidence to be consistent and credible.

12. The Panel also heard evidence from the Registrant. The Panel found her to be candid and credible.

13. The Panel received a bundle of evidence which included the witness statements of DB and KB. The Panel also received a bundle from the Registrant which included testimonials on behalf of the Registrant and reflections on her part.

14. The Panel considered factual particulars 1 and 2 of the Allegation in turn. In relation to Particular 1, the evidence is consistent with the admission made by the Registrant to each of the sub particulars. The Panel had sight of the said application forms completed by the Registrant. There were sections specifically requiring the Registrant to disclose any previous disciplinary proceedings against her, and she failed to do so.

15. Accordingly, the Panel finds Particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c) proved.

16. With regard to Particular 2 the Registrant was unable fully to recall the conversation she had had with KB but accepted that she did not disclose that the HCPC Hearing she was due to attend was about herself. The Panel noted the very clear and consistent evidence by KB that the Registrant had said that she was attending the HCPC Hearing to support her friend who was subject to those proceedings.

17. Accordingly, the Panel finds Particular 2 proved.

18. The Panel then considered Particular 3 which alleges that the Registrant’s actions in the above factual particulars were dishonest. The Panel’s attention was drawn to the case of Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords [2017] UKSC 67 which overruled the use of the Ghosh test when determining dishonesty. The Panel noted the change in the test to be applied for dishonesty.

19. The Registrant has also admitted that her actions were dishonest. The Registrant has accepted, and the Panel has noted, that the application forms in question appear to be generic forms, and the sections requiring disclosure of previous disciplinary actions is not limited to the nature of the role being applied for.

20. The Panel determined that the Registrant was aware of what she was doing when she completed the above-mentioned application forms, and that she had intentionally omitted to disclose her previous professional disciplinary history. The Panel determined that ordinary and decent people would consider the Registrant’s actions as set out in Particulars 1 and 2 to be dishonest.

21. Therefore, Particular 3 is proved on the balance of probabilities.

Decision on Grounds

22. The Panel then went on to consider whether the factual particulars found proved amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence.  At the start of proceedings, the Registrant accepted that her actions amounted to misconduct. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Chalmers on behalf of the HCPC.

23. Mr Chalmers submitted that the Registrant’s actions breached the expectation that the public have that Social Workers would act with honestly and integrity.

24.  The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Smith who reminded the Panel that the Registrant had accepted that her actions amounted to misconduct at the start of these proceedings and in her oral evidence.

25. The Panel attention was drawn to the following cases:

a) Roylance v GMC (2000) 1 AC 311

b) Calhaem v GMC [2007] EWHC 2606 (Admin)

26. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

27. The Panel was aware that misconduct is “a word of general effect, involving some act or omission, which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances.” It is also aware that it was stressed that Misconduct is qualified by the word “serious”. It is not just any professional misconduct, which will qualify.

28. The Panel was also aware that not every instance of falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances, and not every breach of the HCPC standards, would be sufficiently serious such as to amount to misconduct in this context. Therefore, the Panel has had careful regard to the context and circumstances of the matters found proved.

29. The Panel considered that, on the facts found proved, the Registrant had breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely that Social Workers are expected to act with honesty and integrity at all times.

30. The Panel were aware that these applications were not for Social Worker roles. Nevertheless, it was incumbent upon the Registrant to be open and honest in any job application that she makes. It is a reasonable expectation of any employer that applicants are open and honest when applying for jobs. Failure to do so, regardless of personal circumstances, is a serious matter. In the context of a regulated professional, failure to be open and honest when applying for any role is a serious matter - society expects those professionals to be held to a higher standard.

31. Accordingly, the Panel finds that the facts found proved were serious enough to amount to the statutory ground of Misconduct.

Decision on Impairment 

32. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her misconduct. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Chalmers and Mr Smith and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

33. The Legal Assessor drew the Panel’s attention to the approach set out in the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant (2011) EWHC 927 (Admin), and reminded the Panel that there was a personal and public component when considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.

34. In considering whether the Registrant's fitness to practise was impaired, the Panel took into account the following factors:

(a) The Registrant has engaged with the process and attended today to give evidence and to allow the Panel to test her level of insight.

(b) The Registrant admitted the entire Allegation at the start of proceedings.

(c) The Registrant's reflection on her behaviour, and the steps taken by her to ensure there is no repetition;

(d) The evidence of the HCPC's witness, KB, who had spoken of the Registrant in glowing terms. She told the Panel that the Registrant had been a real asset to her team, and that they had been devastated when the Registrant left. KB described the Registrant as exemplary at her job, and that she had no concerns about the Registrant's work. KB said that everyone on the team was very sad that the Registrant was not coming back.

(e) The Registrant's evidence about the numerous job applications she has made since, and that she had been open and honest in all of them;

(f) The Registrant's evidence about her difficult personal circumstances prevailing at the time when she behaved in the manner set out in the allegation;

(g) The references provided on behalf of the Registrant which speak to her honesty and integrity both at work and in her personal life, since these matters occurred

35. The Panel determined that the Registrant had developed insight into her misconduct. It also determined that her misconduct was remediable and that she had demonstrated remediation. The Panel was aware that it is difficult to demonstrate remediation when it comes to dishonesty matters. However, the Panel was also aware that there is a spectrum of dishonest behaviour. It determined that the Registrant’s dishonesty in this case was not the most serious, but neither was it the least serious. The Panel took into account the reference from JB, the Volunteer Manager and Coordinator of the group where the Registrant does volunteer work, who speaks highly about the Registrant’s honesty and openness. JB indicated that she was aware of the reasons behind the Registrant’s dismissal from Hull City Council and her resignation from East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

36. The Panel also took into account the Registrant’s explanation that she did not fully disclose her previous disciplinary matters because she was ashamed of them and also because she was desperate to gain employment due to her personal circumstances and financial difficulties. The Panel noted the Registrant's evidence about the assistance she has secured since these matters arose, and the network of support she has in place, to deal with her personal circumstances.

37. Taking all of the above into account, the Panel determined that these matters, and the previous matters for which the Registrant is currently under a Suspension Order, were out of character and that there was no deep seated underlying attitudinal problem with dishonesty on the part of the Registrant.

38. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s financial situation has not improved and she has not yet been able to find employment although she is undertaking volunteer work four days a week. It also noted that the Registrant has made numerous job applications and that she has been open and honest about her previous disciplinary history. On one application, she was told that she was not successful because another candidate had scored marginally higher.

39. However, the Panel was reassured by the support network the Registrant has put in place, albeit it has only been there for a relatively short period of time.  In these circumstances, the Panel considered the risk of repetition to be low.

40. However, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s misconduct was such that the need to uphold professional standards and public confidence in the professions would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in these circumstances.

41. Therefore, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on public interest grounds alone.
Decision on Sanction

42. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, the Panel then considered what sanction, if any, should be imposed. It took into account the submissions of Mr Chalmers and Mr Smith.

43. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He advised the Panel that it should bear in mind that its over-arching duty is:

(a) to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public;

(b) to promote and maintain public confidence in the professions regulated by the HCPC;

(c) to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of those professions;

44. The Panel was aware that the public Interest includes maintaining and declaring proper standards of conduct and behaviour, maintaining the reputation of the profession, and maintaining public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

45. The Panel had regard to all the evidence presented, and to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel reminded itself that a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. The Panel bore in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality when determining what the appropriate sanction in this case should be.

46. The Panel was aware that any sanction it imposes must be the least restrictive sanction that, in this case, is sufficient to protect the public interest. It should take into consideration the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case. The Panel also reminded itself that it must apply the principle of proportionality, weighing the Registrant’s interest against the public interest. 

Panel’s consideration and decision

47. The Panel has had regard to all the evidence presented, and to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.

48. The Panel took into account the factors it had noted when considering the issue of current impairment. In addition, it took into account the following factors:

a) the Registrant self-referred these matters to the HCPC, had fully engaged with this regulatory process and had admitted the Allegation at the outset of the hearing;

b) this was a case of misconduct and her competence as a Social Worker was not in dispute;

c) the Registrant is currently subject to a Suspension Order for an earlier FTP matter, but the Panel determined that these matters are connected to those matters, and was a course of conduct that was out of character, and isolated in the wider context;

d) the evidence demonstrated that the Registrant is held in high regard by her colleagues;

e) no actual harm was caused to any patient or service user;

f) the Registrant has apologised and is clearly remorseful and ashamed of her actions;

g) the stressful and protracted personal circumstances prevailing at the time and the toll that these proceedings have had on her; and

h) the Panel’s finding that there was a low risk of repetition in this case.

49. The Panel first considered taking no action but concluded that the misconduct in this case was too serious for no action to be appropriate. A member of the public would be concerned if no action were taken, notwithstanding the Panel’s determination that these matters were allied to the earlier proceedings and was conduct that was out of character for the Registrant. The earlier proceedings did not take these matters into consideration.

50. The Panel then considered whether to make a Caution Order. It bore in mind that a caution order would not restrict the Registrant’s right to practise. Whilst this matter is not relatively minor in nature, the Panel was satisfied that it was conduct that was out of character for the Registrant. The Panel was mindful of its finding that the Registrant has demonstrated insight, has taken positive steps to avoid a repetition of her misconduct and has demonstrated that she was unlikely to repeat her misconduct. The Registrant has been held to account, and proper standards of practice and behaviour have been declared by the finding of misconduct and current impairment on public interest grounds alone.

51. The Panel determined that, in this case, the public interest would be met with the imposition of a Caution Order as a sanction, The Panel determined that a member of the public who was fully informed of the above considerations, would not be concerned if a Caution Order was imposed in these circumstances. A Caution Order is not an insignificant sanction. It will appear on the Registrant’s online register entry for the period specified. A Caution Order will appear with a link to the Panel’s decision for any prospective employer to access, and could be taken into account if any further allegation is made against the Registrant.

52. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be sufficient to satisfy the wider public interest.

53. The Panel determined that the appropriate and proportionate period for which the Caution Order should be imposed will be 3 years, given the need for public confidence to be upheld and a deterrent effect on the profession at large.

54. The Panel also noted the Indicative Sanctions Policy in relation to circumstances such as these where there will be multiple sanctions involved due to earlier proceedings. The Panel make it clear that this Caution Order has no effect on the duration of the Suspension Order to which the Registrant is already subject.

55. The Panel did consider the proportionality of imposing either Conditions of Practice Order or a Suspension Order. There were no identifiable areas of the Registrant’s practice in need of remediation so a Conditions of Practice Order was not appropriate in this case. A Suspension Order would be clearly disproportionate taking into account the mitigating factors previously identified.

56. The Panel further considered that a Striking off Order would be entirely disproportionate and contrary to the public interest that includes the retention of a Registrant who is able to make a valuable contribution to the profession and to service users.

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Deborah Johnson with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of three years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

 

 

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Deborah Johnson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status