Dr Michelle O'Sullivan

Profession: Practitioner psychologist

Registration Number: PYL32894

Interim Order: Imposed on 04 Oct 2017

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 15/11/2018 End: 17:00 15/11/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road,

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Practitioner Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council, you:

1. On 10 November 2017, at Blackfriars Crown Court, were convicted of:

 

a) 2 x Import a controlled drug of class C with intent to evade a prohibition/ restriction.

b) 1 x Possess a controlled drug of class A - MOMA.

c) 2 x Possess a controlled drug of class B - other.

d) 1 x Possess a controlled drug of class C - other.

e) 2 x Offering to supply class A controlled drug.

f) 1 x Offering to supply class B controlled drug.

 

2. By reason of your convictions as set out at paragraphs 1.a) - 1.f), your fitness to practise is impaired

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Application to amend the Allegation :

1.At the outset of the hearing, Mr Millin for the HCPC made an unopposed application to amend Particular 1 to show the date and the court at which the Registrant entered guilty pleas to drug offences, and to correct the spelling of the controlled drug referred to in Particular 1 b) to MDMA.   The Panel has decided to grant the application.   The Registrant has been on notice of the proposed amendment to the date and court since July 2018 and has raised no objection to this.   The Panel is satisfied that the proposed amendments cause no injustice to the Registrant.
Conducting the hearing in private

2.Ms Fletcher applied for part of the proceedings to be heard in private on grounds that this is necessary to protect the Registrant’s private life as there will be references to her health at certain points in the hearing.   Mr Millin did not oppose the application.   In reaching its decision the Panel has had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Conducting Hearings in Private.  It has received and accepted legal advice.  

3.The Panel has decided to grant the application and hear those parts of the proceedings which deal with the Registrant’s health in private.   This is in order to protect her private life.

Background:

4.The Registrant is a registered Practitioner Psychologist who was employed by Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust (the Trust) at the material time. She also carried out private work through Zenith Psychology Ltd (Zenith). On 11 May 2017, the Registrant referred herself to the HCPC following her arrest on 9 May 2017 for suspected drug offences.   She had been released on unconditional bail.   In her referral, the Registrant indicated that she had informed the Trust of her arrest. Initially the Trust suspended her from work on full pay. In January 2018, the Registrant was dismissed by the Trust. The Registrant also informed Zenith of her arrest and that she had decided to cease her own private work, and withdrew as a director of the firm.    

5.The facts relating to the Registrant’s arrest are that on 1 May 2017, at Coventry Airport, officers intercepted a package addressed to the Registrant at her work address, which was found to contain 300 diazepam tablets and 100 Alrazolam tablets. Enquiries by the officers established the Registrant was employed by the Trust.  The officers also established that in September 2016, the Registrant had received a similar delivery to her home address. Following her arrest, officers searched the Registrant’s address and found a number of different types of drugs, including MDMA (Class A), cocaine (Class A) and ketamine (Class B), as well as a number of Valium tablets. The estimated street value of the drugs was between £700 and £1,700.

6.The Registrant surrendered her mobile phone, and its memory was analysed.  There were text messages and WhatsApp messages which showed that the Registrant had, on a number of occasions, offered to supply Class A, B and C drugs to around 10 individuals, some of whom were identified by name.  There were also "tick lists" or shopping lists of orders for drugs from some of those identified by name. The messages covered the period from July 2016 to March 2017.

7.When the Registrant was interviewed by the officers, she admitted that she had been obtaining the drugs for herself and for others and expressed remorse for her actions.

8.The Registrant was subsequently charged with offences relating to her possession and/or supply of a variety of controlled drugs.  She appeared at North London Magistrates Court on 14 September 2017 where she pleaded guilty to those offences. The Registrant was committed to Blackfriars Crown Court for sentence. On 10 November 2017, at Blackfriars Crown Court, she was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment suspended for 24 months, ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work before 9 November 2018, and ordered to undertake Rehabilitation Activity Requirement for a maximum of 30 days concurrent. She was made subject to electronic monitoring between 19:00 hours and 05:00 daily for 3 months and ordered to pay costs and victim surcharge totalling £425.00.The Registrant has successfully completed the 300 hours of unpaid work and undertaken the 30 days of Rehabilitation Activity Requirement.  

9.The Registrant has been employed by the Rail Safety and Standards Board in a non-clinical role since January 2018. She has not worked as a Practitioner Psychologist since May 2017.

Decision on Facts

Particular 1a) to f) - was found proved

10.The Panel has considered the Certificate of Conviction from Blackfriars Crown Court in relation to proceedings on 10 November 2017. It is satisfied, on the basis of this Certificate that each of the sub-paragraphs of Particular 1 is proved. The Certificate of Conviction shows that on 14 September 2017 at the North London Magistrates’ Court, the Registrant pleaded guilty to the offences set out in sub-paragraphs a) to f) of Particular 1.  In finding Particular 1a) to f) proved, the Panel has also relied on the Registrant’s admissions.

Decision on Grounds

11.For the reasons set out in its findings of fact, the Panel is satisfied that the statutory ground of conviction is proved.

Decision on Impairment
 
12.In reaching its decision on impairment, the Panel has considered the submissions of both parties, and has had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”.   It has also received and accepted legal advice.

13.The Panel is well aware that the purpose of these hearings, is not to punish the Registrant for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts and omissions of those who are not fit to practise.

14.In considering the personal component, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant has been open regarding her convictions. This is demonstrated by her guilty pleas and her admissions to the Allegation today. The Panel notes that it was the Registrant who informed the Trust of her arrest and took the decision not to carry out private work whilst the criminal matters were under investigation.   There are no previous regulatory findings against her. 
 
15.The Panel is, however, most impressed by the exceptional insight which the Registrant showed in her reflective statement and her oral evidence today. It is clear her insight has evolved and developed over time. She showed considerable insight into the personal vulnerabilities and circumstances underpinning her drug use and her offending behaviour.  The Registrant was able to talk cogently and openly about the effect of her offending behaviour on public confidence in the Practitioner Psychologist profession, on her colleagues and service users, particularly some young service users with whom she was working at the time of her arrest. It was clear from her evidence that the Registrant is appropriately remorseful.  

16.The Panel is impressed by the scale and range of remediation that the Registrant has taken. The type of therapy she has had has been systematic and highly targeted to address the range of her vulnerabilities and the risk factors involved. The Panel notes the extent of the disclosure the Registrant has made to former colleagues and others about her offending. It accepts that this has enabled her to put in place appropriate coping strategies and supportive networks, to reduce the risk of future drug misuse.  In terms of work-related stress which formed part of the background to her offending, the Registrant is now more aware of her own vulnerabilities and limitations and has learnt to put better boundaries in place so that she can cope with work-related stress in the future. She has been successfully working fulltime in a nonclinical role since January 2018.  

17.The Panel notes the very many supportive testimonials that have been provided for the Registrant. It has found those from professional treatment providers to be particularly helpful in providing independent evidence of where the Registrant is her recovery. The Panel is of the clear view that the risk of repetition in this case is very low.

18.The Registrant gave evidence of how she has kept her skills and knowledge up to date since May 2017 when she last worked in clinical practice. Although the Registrant did not provide independent evidence of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as she did not know this would be required, there is some support for this in the papers.   In these circumstances, the Panel is prepared to accept that the Registrant has made efforts to keep her skills and knowledge up to date. She is also working as a generalist in the field of mental health. 

19. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not impaired on the personal component grounds.

20.In relation to the public component grounds and the wider public interest, the Panel notes that the Registrant is still subject to a suspended sentence of imprisonment. The serious nature of the criminal convictions is reflected in the custodial sentence imposed.  The Panel has no doubt that an informed member of the public would consider that public confidence in the Practitioner Psychologist profession and in its regulatory process would be undermined if there was no finding of impairment in this case at this time.  

21.The Panel also takes the view that it would be failing in its duty to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour in the Practitioner Psychiatrist profession if it did not find impairment in this case.   Practitioner Psychologists should be in no doubt that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable.

22.In these circumstances the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the public component grounds.
Decision on Sanction

23. In considering the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case the Panel was referred to and has taken account of the HCPC Indicative  Sanctions Policy. The Panel has borne in mind that the purpose of any sanction it imposes is not to punish the Registrant, although it may have that effect, but it is to protect service users and to maintain confidence in the Practitioner Psychologist profession and to uphold its standards of conduct and behaviour.  The Panel has also had in mind that any sanction it imposes must be appropriate and proportionate bearing in mind the convictions involved.  
 
24.The Panel has first considered mitigating and aggravating factors.    In relation to mitigating factors, the Panel notes that the Registrant has communicated and co-operated with the HCPC in these proceedings and that she has attended this hearing. The Registrant has demonstrated significant insight and remorse.  The Registrant has taken exceptional steps to remedy her convictions.   She has demonstrated abstinence from drug use, submitted herself to random drug testing and she has undertaken appropriate and targeted therapy.   She has put in place coping strategies to ensure that she does not re-offend in the future.   The Panel has also taken note of evidence that the risk of repetition in this case is low.

25.In relation to aggravating features, the Panel notes the serious nature of the convictions which relate to behaviour that took place over a period of time.   The Panel considers that the convictions have had adverse consequences for service users and for the Registrant’s colleagues and have caused reputational damage to the Practitioner Psychologist profession.

26.The Panel has considered the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness.   It has decided that to take no action or to impose a Caution Order in this case would not be appropriate or proportionate given the serious nature of the convictions concerned.   The Registrant’s offending behaviour was not an isolated incident and it could not be described as relatively minor.   The Panel is satisfied that to ensure public confidence in the profession is not undermined it has to consider a more severe sanction. 

27.The Panel has considered a Conditions of Practice Order but has decided that this was neither sufficient nor proportionate in this case.   Although the Registrant has shown good insight into the behaviours, the Panel considers that an informed member of the public would be concerned if a registrant was able to practice even subject to conditions while still subject to a suspended sentence for serious criminal offences.

28.The Panel then turned to consider a Suspension Order.   It notes that paragraph 39 of the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy paragraph 39 states:

“Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a  caution or conditions of practice order would provide insufficient public  protection…”.  

29.As the Panel takes the view that neither of those orders would maintain sufficient public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process, it has decided that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case is to impose a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months.   The Panel has decided that the period of 12 months will provide the Registrant with time to complete the suspended part of her sentence.   The Panel is satisfied that an informed member of the public would consider that a Suspension Order for this period of time would be sufficient to maintain public confidence in the Practitioner Psychologist profession and in its regulatory process. 

30.The Panel has considered whether it should make a striking off order in this case.  It takes the view that there may be cases where the appropriate and proportionate sanction for a registrant who is convicted of serious drug offences will be a Strike Off Order.    However, the Panel is satisfied that in the circumstances of this case where the Registrant has demonstrated proper insight and remorse, where she has taken exceptional steps to remedy her convictions, an informed member of the public would consider such an order to be disproportionate.  


31.Whilst the Panel cannot bind the panel which will review the Suspension Order shortly before the end of the 12 month period, it may be assisted by the following:

1.Further independent evidence such as hair test analysis showing the Registrant has remained abstinent during the period of the Suspension Order,

2.Independent evidence of any steps she has taken to maintain her knowledge and skills by way of continuing professional development.

Order

The Panel decided to impose a 12 month Suspension Order from the day the order comes into effect.

Notes

 

 

 Interim Order:
The Panel is satisfied that because of the serious nature of the convictions in this case, an Interim Suspension Order is in the public interest. The Panel has concluded that it would seriously undermine public confidence in this regulatory process if the Registrant was permitted to be in unrestricted practice before the Order comes into effect or any appeal is concluded. 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.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Dr Michelle O'Sullivan

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended