Miss Tracy Hands
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As found proven at the final hearing on 5 June 2017
Whilst employed as a Social Worker by Staffordshire County Council between 12 October 2015 and 15 March 2016:
1. In relation to Service User A:
a) Between 24 December 2015 and 11 March 2016 you did not undertake and/or record any contact with the police;
b) Between 7 January 2016 and 11 March 2016 you did not undertake and/or record any visits to Service User A;
c) Between 24 December 2015 and 11 March 2016 you did not undertake and/or record an enquiry report;
2. In relation to Service User B:
a) Between 26 February 2016 and 11 March 2016 you did not complete and/or record your completion of a Mental Capacity Assessment of Service User B;
b) Between 26 February 2016 and 11 March 2016 you did not complete and/or record your completion of a referral to advocacy for Service User B;
c) Between 26 February 2016 and 11 March 2016 you did not contact Service User B to obtain her views;
d) Between 26 February 2016 and 11 March 2016 you did not liaise with community nurses regarding Service User B;
e) Between 26 February 2016 and 11 March 2016 you did not ensure that protective measures were in place for Service User B;
3. In relation to Service User C:
a) Between 26 October 2015 and 11 March 2016 you did not adequately communicate with other professionals and/or the adoptive parent in relation to Service User C;
b) You did not complete an adequate FACE Overview Assessment of Service User C;
c) Between 10 November 2015 and 2 February 2016, you did not maintain adequate contact with Service User C;
d) Your actions at 3a, 3b and/or 3c caused a delay to Service User C’s discharge from hospital;
4. In relation to Service User D:
a) Between October 2015 and 11 March 2016 you did not fully complete your FACE Overview Assessment of Service User D;
b) You did not provide your FACE Overview Assessment of Service User D to the Continuing Health Care Funding Panel arranged for 9 March 2016 in a timely manner;
c) Your actions at 4b caused a delay to Service User D’s discharge from hospital;
5. Your actions described at particulars 1 to 4 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence;
6. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Service of Notice
1. This Panel has evidence that written notice of these proceedings was posted by first class post to the Registrant at her registered address on 29 October 2018, and was also sent a further copy by email to her known email address. This Panel was shown documents, which established the fact of the service and the identity of the Registrant’s registered address. The Panel noted that within the Notice letter, information relating to the final hearing was incorrect in two respects. First, it is recorded that a Conditions of Practice Order had been imposed when it had in fact been a nine-month period of suspension. Secondly, the day, month and year of the hearing and date of imposition of the Order are incorrect.
2. The Panel further noted however, that in relation to this hearing, the information relating within the Notice letter was correct in relation to the date time and venue of this hearing and the nature of the hearing. In these circumstances, this Panel has accepted that proper service of the notice had been effected.
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
3. Ms Senior on behalf of the HCPC submitted that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
4. This Panel heard that this morning the Registrant had confirmed that she would not be attending the hearing. The Panel had before it a copy of the two emailed letters that had been sent to the Registrant on 6 and 21 November 2018 in which the Presenting Officer stressed to the Registrant the virtue of attending the hearing either in person or by telephone.
5. The Panel has seen the representations made by the Registrant which, it was assumed, were to be taken into account by the Panel in her absence.
6. Ms Senior stressed that it would appear that the Registrant had made an informed voluntary decision not to attend and there was no indication that she wished to adjourn this matter or that she would attend at a future date. It was stressed that this was a mandatory hearing and there was therefore public interest in this matter being heard without unnecessary delay.
7. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
8. This Panel was aware of the need to consider the application to proceed in the absence of the Registrant with great caution. However, after giving the application very careful thought, this Panel has determined to allow it. Its reasons are as follows:
• Notice of this hearing has been properly served on the Registrant;
• The Registrant has not applied for an adjournment or given any indication that she wishes this hearing to take place on another date;
• There is no reason to suppose that if an adjournment was granted the Registrant would be more likely to attend;
• The Registrant is clearly aware of today’s hearing and has sent in information to be considered by the Panel.
• This is a mandatory review and the existing order will expire on 5 January 2019.
• In all the circumstances, the Registrant can be regarded as having waived her right to attend.
9. At the original hearing the panel [the original panel] found that misconduct was established in respect of all the particulars found proved and it determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was thereby impaired.
10. The original panel imposed a Suspension Order on the Registrant for a period of 9 months.
11. The Registrant, a registered Social Worker, commenced employment with Staffordshire County Council for Stafford and South Staffs Independent Futures, Adult Learning Disability Team, on 12 October 2015.
12. Due to concerns about her practice, an informal Performance Improvement Plan was commenced on 19 February 2016. It is alleged that this did not proceed well. Concerns continued with regard to the Registrant’s inability to complete work and to make records in relation to her caseload. The Registrant resigned from her position in March 2016.
Hearing in June 2017
13. At the hearing in June 2017, the original panel found those particulars of the Allegation, as identified above, proved. The original panel further found that the proved facts were sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct.
14. Having found proved the facts set out above and, having determined that those facts amounted to misconduct, the original panel had regard to the HCPC Practice Note on impairment and in particular, to the two elements of impairment namely “the personal component” and “the public component”. The original panel held that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired in both respects.
15. In coming to the conclusion that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired, the original panel noted that there was no evidence from the Registrant of sufficient insight into her failings, reflection upon them or an indication of how she would act differently in the future, in similar circumstances or of remediation. In these circumstances, the original panel concluded that the Registrant was likely to act in these ways in the future.
16. The original panel further concluded that public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, together with the need to declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and conduct, would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made. Accordingly, the original panel found that in respect of “the wider public interest” the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.
17. The original panel concluded that a sanction was necessary. It determined that taking no action, or making a caution order would not be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of the case.
18. The original panel then considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order but concluded that in this case such an Order was inappropriate. The original panel explained its reasons as follows;
‘The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order and decided that this would not be workable. Although the misconduct is in principle remediable, during the time of the allegation the Registrant had the benefit of good supervision from a supportive line manager, which was insufficient to prevent her omissions from occurring and continuing. The Panel was therefore unable to formulate conditions which, in its view, would be sufficient to address the public protection concerns. In light of the previous failure of supervision to protect service users, any conditions that the Panel might consider would need to be so extensive to meet the concerns in this case that they would, in the Panel’s view, effectively amount to a suspension.’
19. The original panel proceeded to consider making a Suspension Order and concluded that a months Suspension Order for a period of 9 months was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest. The original panel expressed its reasons as follows:
‘The Panel therefore decided that a Suspension Order for a period of 9 months would be appropriate and proportionate. This will protect the public, maintain public confidence in the profession and will uphold proper professional standards. At the same time it will allow the Registrant time in which to develop her insight into her misconduct and reflect on its impact upon the service users and upon public confidence in the profession. A period of 9 months was chosen as this would, in the Panel’s view, be the minimum required for the Registrant to demonstrate that she had remediated her failings.’
20. The original panel stated that given its conclusion that the impairment was remediable; a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate “at this stage”.
21. With regard to a future review, the original panel indicated what might be helpful to stating as follows;
‘The Panel was of the view that a Panel reviewing this sanction in due course might be assisted by the following:
• a written reflective piece from the Registrant on the reasons for her deficiencies, their effect on the service users, and changes she would make to ensure that they evidence of work done to improve communication skills, time management, record keeping and report writing;
• testimonials or references from any current or recent employment, whether paid or unpaid;
• evidence of training to address the Registrant’s deficiencies.’
22. Ms Senior had presented the Panel with copies of her emailed letters to the Registrant dated 6 and 21 November 2018 in which she highlighted to the Registrant the terms of the guidance as to what information a reviewing panel would wish to see. This information had been included within the decisions of the final hearing panel and the last reviewing panel.
23. Ms Senior had also provided the Panel with a copy of the Registrant’s emailed letter dated 15 November 2018 in which she outlined her current role, listed details of training courses given and attended, and which had, in the view of the HCPC, focused in the main on her improved planning and organisation skills. Ms Senior drew the Panel’s attention to the fact that this information did not make any reference to the matters which had been highlighted at the final hearing, in particular the need for insight into the impact that the Registrant’s misconduct had on service users. There was no supporting evidence of the training or courses undertaken, nor were there any references from any employers including her recent employer who she has worked for since July 2017. There was also no piece of reflective writing which would give the Panel evidence of how the Registrant viewed her previous failings and what tools and techniques the Registrant would employ in her future role as a Social Worker.
24. Ms Senior submitted that based on this superficial level of engagement displayed in the Registrant’s emailed letter, a further period of suspension might be the appropriate sanction, however given the issues highlighted above, the Panel may wish to consider whether a Strike-Off is appropriate at this time in these circumstances.
25. The Registrant in her emailed letter of 15 November 2018 had indicated that her current contract of employment was to end soon and that she had been seeking employment which would require her registration. She indicated that she retained a passion for her work and requested the opportunity to return to practice.
Decision of this Panel
26. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the legal assessor and has referred to relevant guidance issued by the HCPTS in its practice notes relating to substantive reviews.
27. This Panel is aware that it has all the powers that are set out in Article 30  of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 [The Order] and which are summarised in the letter dated 29 October 2018 addressed to the Registrant and giving notice of this hearing.
28. This Panel is aware that the process under Article 30  of the Order is one of review and not one of appeal and that its function is to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired and, if so, whether the Suspension Order under review remains the appropriate and proportionate means of public protection or should be varied or replaced by some other order.
29. This Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired. In coming to this conclusion this Panel noted that the Registrant had not provided core material that would have provided the Panel with evidence that the Registrant had gained insight into her former behaviour and what steps she had taken to ensure that there would be no repetition of her misconduct. The information supplied by the Registrant was unsupported by independent evidence of her current skills and abilities or education and training. This Panel determined that for precisely the same reasons as those stated by the final hearing and previous reviewing panel as summarised above, the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, both on the personal and the public components of its decision.
30. Having concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired, this Panel proceeded to consider what order is appropriate, proportionate and sufficient to protect the public and safeguard the public interest. This Panel took into account the principles of proportionality, balancing the interests of the Registrant with the public interest.
31. This Panel has had regard to the contents of the Indicative Sanctions Policy published by the HCPTS and is aware that sanctions should be considered in ascending order of severity. This Panel is aware that the purpose of sanctions is not punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the public interest. The latter objective includes maintaining standards within the profession, together with public confidence in the profession and in its regulatory processes.
32. This Panel has concluded that to take no action, thus allowing the present order to lapse, or to impose a Caution Order would be inappropriate having regard to the nature and gravity of the matters found proved. Such outcomes would not sufficiently protect the public or the public interest.
33. This Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate. In substance, its reasons are the same as those stated by the final hearing panel and previous reviewing panel, which are summarised above. Moreover, this Panel noted the absence of any evidence that the Registrant would be in a position to, or would comply with any Conditions, and noted further that she had produced none of the material suggested by the previous reviewing panel as being of assistance to this Panel.
34. This Panel then considered an extension of the existing Suspension Order. It was deeply troubled by the fact that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC since the last hearing and, in particular, that she has not, even now, fully complied with the suggestions made by the final hearing panel and previous reviewing panels as to what would assist this Panel. Further, the information which the Registrant has supplied shows little understanding of what is required in terms of insight. The lack of any supporting evidence of training, courses attended, and qualifications gained, was of concern. There was no evidence to support the Registrant’s assertions in her emailed letter that she has fully addressed the Panel’s concerns.
35. The Panel also noted the guidance given in the Indicative Sanction Policy at paragraphs 41 and 48 which state that a Strike off is appropriate where there has been a lack of evidence of remediation or a lack of willingness to address the failings.
36. The Panel noted the strenuous steps which the HCPC had taken to bring to the Registrant’s attention the importance of her presenting to the panel information in terms of the guidance issued by the previous panels. The Panel noted that the Registrant was written to by the Presenting Officer for the HCPC on 21 November 2018 in which the Presenting Officer stated…
‘Whilst your letter details what you are doing in your current role, you may wish to re read the final hearing determination and the first review decision(attached for your reference) and re familiarise yourself with the areas of concern. For example, in determining that your fitness to practice was impaired at the final hearing the Panel commented at paragraph 54:
'The Panel has not had any evidence of reflection or any real insight from the Registrant about how her omissions impacted upon the service users in question, or upon public confidence in the profession and how she would do things differently in the future. There was no evidence presented to it of any attempts by the Registrant to remediate her failings or undertake training which would assist in guarding against such failings recurring in the future.
The Registrant told the Panel of her further studies in coaching, but there was no indication as to how this has contributed to her development as a social worker.’
The Panel also went on to give guidance as to what would assist a Panel reviewing your suspension order at paragraph 65:
1) A written reflective piece from the Registrant on the reasons for her deficiencies, their effect on service users and the changes she would make to ensure they did not occur in the future.
2) Evidence of work done to improve communication skills, time management, record keeping and report writing Testimonials or references from any current or recent employment, whether paid or unpaid.
3) Evidence of training to address the Registrants deficiencies
You may wish to review both decisions and the guidance given prior to attending the review on 30 November 2018. In addition, you may also wish to consider providing evidence (i.e. certificates, records of attendance) in relation to the CPD you have undertaken as referenced in your letter.’
37. The Panel noted the strong guidance which had been given by the last reviewing panel that:
The Registrant should understand that, in the absence of engagement by her and should she fail to comply with the suggestions made by the original Panel, there is a very real possibility that the next review will result in the making of a Striking off Order. Accordingly, this Panel determines that a further 9 months suspension would be the appropriate and proportionate sanction.
This Panel appreciates that the guidance issued by previous panels is not binding on the Registrant, and that her wish to present her information may take another form. The Panel considered that the Registrant has shown an unwillingness to resolve matters and has not taken sufficient steps to demonstrate that she has remediated her previous failings or taken the opportunity of reflecting fully on her former behaviour, therefore has decided that after an 18 months’ Suspension Order, only a Strike Off Order is appropriate and proportionate.
ORDER: The Registrar is directed to Strike off the name of the Registrant, Miss Tracy Hands, from the register.
A substantive review was held in London on 30 November 2018. The Registrant was struck off from the register.