Miss Anne Margaret O'Connor

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW13309

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 15/11/2018 End: 12:30 15/11/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

While employed as a Social Worker by Somerset County Council, you:

 

1) On dates between April 2016 and May 2016, completed Fostering Assessment reports (Form F) in relation to Service User A and did not record accurate information, in that you:

a) On or around 11 April and/or 11 May 2016, recorded that you had spoken to Person A when you had not communicated with him;

b) On or around 11 May 2016, quoted statements made by Person A which had not been made by him;

c) On or around 11 April, 04 May and/or 11 May 2016, recorded that you had spoken to Person B on the telephone when you had not communicated with him;

d) On or around 11 April, 04 May and/or 11 May 2016, recorded Person B’s comments about Service User A’s application, when you had not communicated with him;

e) On or around 11 May 2016, recorded statements made by Person C which were inaccurate and/ or were not obtained directly from a conversation with Person C.

 

2) On or around 13 May 2016, you provided Service User A with the Fostering Assessment report dated 11 May 2016 referred to at Particular 1, containing inaccurate information.

 

3) You did not maintain service user confidentiality in that on or around 20 March 2016, you used your personal email address and/or home IT equipment to send and/or receive confidential information from Service User A;

 

4) Your actions described in paragraph 1 (a) – (e) were dishonest.

 

5) Your actions described in paragraphs 1 and 4 constitute misconduct.

 

6) Your actions described in paragraphs 1 - 3 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

 

7) By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence, your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter dated 15 October 2018 which informed the Registrant of the date, time and venue of the hearing.

Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant

2. Ms Simpson made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She referred the Panel to an email from the Registrant dated 9 November 2018. The Registrant stated that she “formally retired from the profession in January 2018” and refers to a health matter. She also stated “I realise that I can do little re previous matters and my inability to travel means that I am unable to attend the hearing in person”. On 14 November 2018, a Case Manager of the HCPC acknowledged receipt of the Registrant’s email and advised her that if she wished to attend the hearing by telephone she should provide a contact telephone number. The Registrant was also advised that she could provide any evidence or written submissions. There was no response to this email from the Registrant.

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant”.

4. The Panel considered the circumstances of the Registrant’s absence. The Registrant is aware of the hearing as confirmed by her letter. She was given the option of attending the hearing by telephone, but chose not to participate. The Registrant has not attended any of the previous hearings, including the substantive hearing. The Panel concluded that her absence is voluntary and that an adjournment would serve no purpose. The Registrant’s interests were outweighed by the public interest in the expeditious disposal of the matter. The Panel therefore decided to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant.

Background

5. The Registrant commenced employment as a Social Worker at Somerset County Council (the Council) in 1996. Since early 2012, the Registrant had held a number of sessionally-based agreements with the Council to provide Foster Carer Assessments, which were to be placed before Foster Carer Panels for decisions on applicant foster carers. This work was done in the Registrant’s spare time for a fee. By November 2015, she had completed three of these Assessments.

6. The matter concerning the Registrant related to preparation of a Foster Carer Assessment, known as a Form F, regarding foster carers, Service User A (SUA) and Service User B (SUB), in early 2016. The Allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at a substantive hearing on 14 to 16 November 2017. The Registrant did not attend the hearing and was not represented. The substantive hearing panel found all the facts of the Allegation proved, with the exception of Particular 1(e). Those facts concerned errors in record keeping, a breach of confidentiality and dishonest recording of inaccurate information.

7. The substantive hearing panel found that the Registrant’s conduct constituted misconduct. The effect of the Registrant’s deception in the provision of inaccurate information was to severely undermine the trust and confidence of the public, the Council, and the profession in the reliability of the information that she produced. The Registrant’s dishonest actions completely undermined the reliability of the assessment process, and had the potential to place vulnerable children at risk, had the inaccuracies not come to light. The Registrant’s actions also undermined the protection of service users from breaches of confidentiality in respect of confidential material.

8. The substantive hearing panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired. There was nothing before that panel to indicate any remediation by the Registrant, and there was no evidence of remorse, insight, or reflection. The panel therefore concluded that there was a real risk of repetition unless the Registrant fully remediated her misconduct.

9. The substantive hearing panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction was a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months. That panel also made an Interim Suspension Order to cover the 28 day appeal period.

10. The Registrant was advised that a future reviewing panel may be assisted by her attendance at the next review hearing, the production of a reflective piece, and by references and testimonials.

11. On 2 June 2018, the HCPC applied for an early review of the Suspension Order on the grounds that the Registrant was in serious breach of the Suspension Order. The Registrant had worked as a Social Worker at Devon Children’s Services while she was subject to an Interim Suspension Order. A panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee considered the circumstances and decided that it was likely that the Registrant had not fully understood that she was suspended with immediate effect even though she was taking action to appeal the decision of the substantive hearing. The reviewing panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s breach of the Interim Suspension Order was technical rather than a deliberate dishonest breach.

12. The reviewing panel decided that the appropriate order was to confirm the existing order.

Decision

13. Ms Simpson outlined the background and submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired. She further submitted that the
 
Registrant’s email dated 9 November 2018 did not demonstrate insight or address any of the concerns of the substantive hearing panel. She submitted that the appropriate and proportionate order was a Striking Off Order.

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

15. The Panel carefully considered the Registrant’s email dated 9 November 2018. This email outlines the health matter which prevents the Registrant from travelling. The Registrant’s only statement in respect of the findings of the substantive hearing panel was “My last six months of employment with Somerset were ones of continually bullying and harassment and I have little member of the treatment I received” [sic]. The Registrant also gives brief details of her current position “I have since my retirement continued to work on a voluntary basis within the Church of England and have maintained training within the safeguard [sic] of children and vulnerable adults. I have also maintained regular reading over the mental health and child care areas of social work”. The Registrant did not provide a testimonial in respect of her voluntary work or evidence of the training she has undertaken.

16. On 23 October 2018, an HCPC Case Manager sent an email to the Registrant reminding her of the comments made by the panel at the substantive hearing and inviting her to submit evidence or information. The Registrant has not provided evidence or information for the assistance of the Panel, other than the information set out in her email of 9 November 2018. She has not provided a reflective statement, evidence of remedial action, or references or testimonials.

17. The Panel considered that the Registrant has not demonstrated insight or anything that indicates that she is developing insight. The Registrant’s only comment in relation to the matters which led to the finding of impairment refer to the way in which she was treated rather than her own conduct. She does not acknowledge the finding of the substantive hearing panel, express remorse, or make any reference to the potential of her behaviour to harm service users.

18. During the Registrant’s suspension from 16 November 2017, there has been nothing which has changed in relation to remedial action, the Registrant’s level of insight, or the risk of repetition. Therefore, the Panel decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.

19. The Panel considered that a restrictive sanction was required in order to protect the public. The option of replacing the Suspension Order with
 
conditions of practice was not appropriate. Conditions would not address the dishonesty findings made by the previous Panel and conditions would not be workable.

20. The Panel considered the option of extending the current Suspension Order. Although a continuation of the suspension would provide protection for service users, the Panel considered that it was not the appropriate or sufficient sanction, having regard to wider public interest considerations. The Registrant has been suspended for 12 months, and there have been no relevant changes during that time. The Registrant’s engagement with the HCPC has been minimal. She has not demonstrated sufficient willingness and motivation to address the findings made by the substantive hearing panel. The Panel therefore concluded that there was not a real prospect that the Registrant will in the future take the necessary action to reduce the risk of repetition. A further period of suspension would therefore serve no purpose.

21. The Panel considered the Registrant’s interests, particularly her statement that she wishes to practise as a Social Worker, though not on a full time basis. The Panel recognised that the more serious sanction of a Striking Off Order would be detrimental to the Registrant’s interests. Nevertheless, the Panel decided that the Registrant’s interests were outweighed by the public interest, including the need to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

22. The sanction of Striking Off is the ultimate sanction and is reserved for serious cases, such as dishonesty. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction was a Striking Off Order.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Margaret O’Connor from the Register.

Notes

This Order will come inot effect on 14 December 2018.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Anne Margaret O'Connor

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
14/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended