Mr Matthew M J Doyle

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW24857

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 26/11/2018 End: 17:00 28/11/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: No further action

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Allegation

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Social Worker:

1. During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Birmingham City Council between November 2014 and March 2015;

a. In relation to Service User A, you:

i. On or around the 18 February 2015, met Service User A's maternal uncle but did not complete a Schedule 4 Assessment of him.
ii. On or around the 17 February 2015, in fostering documentation provided to the Adoption Decision Maker (ADM) you did not indicate that a family member had come forward for a Schedule 4 Assessment;
iii. On or around the 13 March 2015, incorrectly informed a Court that you:

A) Had completed a Schedule 4 Assessment of Service User A’s maternal uncle; and/or
B) That the outcome of the assessment was negative.

iv. Did not comply with a Court Order to file the Schedule 4 Assessment by;

A) 6 March 2015; and/or
B) 17 March 2015.

v. Did not respond to communication from other professionals on various dates on or around 19 to 20 March 2015;

b. In relation to Service User D, you:

i. Did not complete a Schedule 3 Assessment in a timely manner;
ii. On 11 March 2015, informed your Manager that the Schedule 3 Assessment was one week late, when this was not the case;
iii) Did not respond to communication by other professionals on various dates on or around 5 to 18 March 2015.

c. In relation to Service User E, you:

i. Did not submit the final evidence to the court in a timely manner;
ii. On 11 March 2015, informed your Manager that the final evidence was due at the end of March 2015, when this was not the case;
iii. Did not complete the final Social Work Evidence Template (SWET); and/or
iv. Did not complete the Special Guardianship Order (SGO) Plan;
v. Did not respond to communication by other professionals on various dates on or around 6 to 18 March 2015.

d. In relation to Service User F, you:

i. Did not complete the Child Permanency Reports in a timely manner;
ii. Did not respond to communication by other professionals on various dates on or around 10 to 19 March 2015.

2. Your actions as set out in paragraphs 1a)iii)A & B, 1b)ii, 1c)ii were dishonest.

3. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct and/or lack competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

Late start of the hearing

1. Due to an unexpected family illness, the Registrant had delayed the start of his journey to the hearing and informed the HCPC of this with the result that he would not be there before noon.

2. After taking representations from the Presenting Officer and the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel concluded that it was fair and in the interests of justice that it delay the start of the hearing until the Registrant had arrived. It also considered that on arrival the Registrant should be allowed time to discuss the case with the Presenting Officer and the Legal Assessor. The hearing therefore started at 12.30 on the first day.

Amendment of the Allegation

3. The Presenting Officer made an application to amend the Allegation in three respects. First, by the inclusion within particulars 1(a)(v), 1(b)(iii), 1(c)(v) and 1(d)(ii), of the dates of the period during which it is alleged that the events took place. Secondly, by renumbering particulars 3 to 5, to read 2 to 4. Thirdly, reference within renumbered particular 3, to the matters set out in renumbered particulars 1 and 2, rather than 1 and 3. It was argued that these amendments aided clarity and did not extend the ambit of the matters alleged or cause the Registrant any prejudice.

4. The Panel noted that the Registrant accepted these amendments. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice on the issue of the extent of its powers. The Panel considered that these amendments added clarity and did not cause the Registrant any injustice and so decided to approve the amendments proposed.

In Private

5. The evidence before the Panel included reference to health and family issues. The Presenting Officer indicated that there would be times during the hearing when it may be appropriate for evidence be heard in private. It was stressed that the presumption is that all hearings are in public and only when there is an overriding consideration, such as personal privacy, that a hearing should go into private session. The Registrant indicated that he supported this application. The Panel sought legal advice on this issue. The Panel concluded that it would go into private during discrete portions of the hearing when matters of a personal nature were being considered.

Background

6. The Registrant was employed as a Locum Senior Practitioner with Birmingham City Council (the City Council) through the medium of an agency, HCL Workforce Solutions, from 12 November 2014. He was employed on a three-month rolling contract, based in the Court Team. The children within his caseload were the subject of child protection plans and formal court proceedings.

7. The Registrant was supervised by MR, Team Manager, who held monthly supervision meetings with the Registrant during the period 15 December 2014 to 11 March 2015. During this time the Registrant had maintained that he was managing his caseload despite having some very difficult personal issues to cope with at this time. At the supervision session in March 2015 he had identified only one case where an assessment was a week late and had given assurances to his supevisor that this assessment would be done.

8. In the week following the March 2015 supervision session MR received information which indicated that the Registrant’s work was not up-to-date and there were particularly concerning issues in relation to four service users.  The Registrant had then stated his intention to leave at the end of the month and that before doing so would address those outstanding issues. The Council had allowed the Registrant to work at home on these outstanding matters but the relevant tasks were not completed.

9. The Registrant’s contract was brought to an end on 27 March 2015. On 31 March 2015, the Council’s HR department forwarded to HCL Workforce Solutions an email from MR to the Registrant in which MR outlined the outstanding tasks. The matters which had remained incomplete at the time of the Registrant’s departure were subsequently addressed by other Social Workers within the team.

Decision on Facts

Evidence

10. The Panel had before it a bundle of papers prepared by the HCPC together with three emailed documents from the Registrant that had been sent to the HCPC during the HCPC process of investigation and preparation for this hearing.

11. The Panel received oral evidence from one HCPC witness, MR, and the Registrant.

12. MR had been the Registrant’s Team Leader during the period he was with the City Council. She had conducted supervisions with the Registrant. MR is currently the Interim Head of Service at the City Council. The Panel considered MR to have given balanced, considered, highly credible and consistent evidence. She told the Panel that she stood by her assessment of the Registrant’s practice as recorded in her supervision notes. He had, up until matters came to a head in March 2015, been considered as an experienced and reliable member of the Team. His extensive knowledge and experience had been an asset to the City Council and fellow team members. MR confirmed that the Registrant had been open and honest in informing her of his unexpected personal and family situation when it had arisen at the end of January 2015.

13. The Registrant had at times found giving testimony difficult as it required him to refer to matters which, despite the passage of time, he still found distressing. The Panel considered that he had been candid, open, credible and considered in his evidence and answers. He had displayed the ability to understand other viewpoints of his acts and omissions as well as his own perspective. The Registrant presented as a deeply committed and caring Social Worker.

Findings

14. The Panel appreciated that at this stage the burden of proof was upon the HCPC. The Panel also noted that whilst the Registrant had made admissions to Particular 1, with the exception of 1(a)(iii) which the Registrant could not recall, the HCPC rules were silent as to the effect of such admissions. The Panel had sought and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and taken account of the terms of the relevant HCPTS Practice Notes.

Particular 1 – found proven in its entirety

15. These matters are all supported by the paperwork before the Panel; the testimony of MR; and the admissions and evidence of the Registrant. There is overwhelming evidence before the Panel of the Registrant’s acts and omissions during this period of February and March 2015. The Panel therefore find these matters factually proven.

Particular 2 – not proven

Your actions as set out in paragraphs 1a)iii)A & B, 1b)ii, 1c)ii were dishonest.

16. The Panel had received detailed legal advice on how to approach this matter of dishonesty in the light of the 2017 case of Ivey. The Panel was to assess the Registrant’s state of mind in relation to the matters alleged. This may be taken from what he did as well as what he thought. The Panel then had to decide whether, by the standards of ordinary people, what the Registrant did was dishonest.

17. The HCPC stated that notwithstanding the unusual and extraordinary circumstances that the Registrant found himself in, his actions, on these occasions, had been intentionally misleading, possibly with a view to deflecting further scrutiny of his actions and/or discovery of his practice omissions.

18. The Registrant stated that he was ‘not aware of his thought processes or actions at this time’. He stated that he had ‘no understanding or acknowledgement that he was not coping’. Whilst he may not have been able to provide accurate information he was, however, certain that he has ‘never knowingly been dishonest’.

19. In relation to particulars:

1(a) iii. On or around the 13 March 2015, incorrectly informed a Court that you:
A) Had completed a Schedule 4 Assessment of Service User A’s maternal uncle; and/or
B) That the outcome of the assessment was negative.

20. The Panel noted that the Court record was a representation of what was said at the hearing, a hearing that the Registrant didn’t attend. There was therefore no direct linkage of what was recorded and what the Registrant may have said to the Legal Team. The Panel accepts the Registrant’s evidence that he has no genuine recall of what may or may not have been said or done in relation to this particular service user at that time.

21. In relation to particulars:

1(b)ii. On 11 March 2015, informed your Manager that the Schedule 3 Assessment was one week late, when this was not the case;

1(c)ii. On 11 March 2015, informed your Manager that the final evidence was due at the end of March 2015, when this was not the case;

22. MR stated that at the Supervision session in March 2015 neither she nor the Registrant had been able to access service user files to establish true time lines for tasks or the current position on completion of Court directions due to poor Wi-Fi.  Therefore, what was recorded in the supervision notes reflected what was assumed and said rather than checked and crossed referenced for accuracy.

23. She told the Panel that in early 2015 she had not considered the Registrant to have been misleading or dishonest. Last year when giving her sworn statement she had used the word dishonest but did not feel now, in hindsight, that it was, or has ever been, an appropriate descriptor. 

24. The Panel has accepted the Registrant’s evidence that at this time his thought processes were completely compromised, and he was unable to make coherent or appropriate responses to direct questions. There is no evidence that he was acting intentionally with a view to misleading, deflecting or minimising his lack of action. The Panel appreciated that at first glance these matters appeared to be dishonest in nature. However, when seen within the wider context of all the evidence before the Panel, these matters are plausible as being genuine mistakes or misunderstandings. The Registrant is clear in his mind that he was not being dishonest as he had no capacity at that time to understand that he was behind with his work and had no insight as to how his health issues were impacting on his performance at that time. The Panel accepts this description of his state of mind at that time. It accords with the evidence of MR that the Registrant had just not been capable of doing what he knew he should. The Panel therefore considers that the allegation of dishonesty is not supported in these instances.

Decision on Grounds

25. The Panel’s decision at this stage in the proceedings is one of professional judgment and there is no onus or burden on the HCPC. The Panel’s task is to assess whether the matters found proven individually or collectively amount to a serious breach of professional practice standards. For this purpose, the Panel has discounted from its consideration matters arising under Particular 2 which have not been found proven.

26. The Allegation is framed in the alternative of lack of competence and/or misconduct. The HCPC has framed its submissions on the basis that the Registrant, a very experienced and well-respected member of his profession, had the requisite skills and knowledge to know what was appropriate in the given circumstances. Further, this was a casework sample of four service users during a short, discrete period of time and would not therefore support the requirement for a fair sample of deficient professional practice. The Registrant had described his practice as being deficient during this period of 2015 and on occasions in testimony used the term he was ‘lacking competence’ to describe his practice at this time. The Panel received legal advice on this issue.

27. Based on the evidence, the Panel has come to the conclusion that the matters alleged and found proven do not constitute a lack of competence. Whilst the Registrant lacked the capacity to make informed, considered professional decisions or to fully function as he was usually able to, this did not arise out of him not knowing what to do or lacking the ability to do what was required in the particular circumstances. The Panel has therefore discounted matters that would constitute a breach of the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers.

28. This period of lack of capacity and ability to perform supported a finding of misconduct but would not, in the Panel’s view, amount to wilful or intentional misconduct. The matters did result in delay in the proper placement of vulnerable children, the undermining of the City Council’s reputation, loss of confidence in the Children’s Services by service users, and an adverse impact on the morale of the Court Team members who were required to take control of the Registrant’s outstanding matters.

29. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s acts and omissions were a breach of the following standards within the 2012 edition of the Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics:

1. You must act in the best interests of service users.
7.  You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners.
12. You must limit your work or stop practising if your performance or judgment is affected by your health.

30. The Registrant has openly admitted that he now understood that he should have stopped working when he realised that he was no longer able to function safely and was unable to give the focus or energies his professional role required. During the week he was at home catching up on outstanding matters the evidence is that he made one phone call. As a result, he was failing to put services users interests first. Further, the Registrant has admitted, with great shame and candour, that a consideration in his decision making in January and February 2015 had been the fact that as an agency worker he was not automatically entitled to sick leave and pay.

31. The Registrant has shown his appreciation of the impact his conduct has had on others and an understanding of how it has adversely affected his reputation and those of his fellow practitioners.  However, this does not diminish the adverse comments made by the Court and the reputational impact on the Team and the City Council which was significant. There was also the wider reputational impact on the multidisciplinary team. These were avoidable if the Registrant had taken responsibility for his personal wellbeing sooner. Whilst there had been no lasting harm to the children involved there was some adverse impact at the time. The Panel therefore find that the breach of these standards is serious and supports a finding of misconduct.

Decision on Impairment 

32. The Panel accepted that it was determining the Registrant’s fitness to practise as it is today. Whilst the Panel and the Registrant accept that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired in 2015 it is the Panel’s task today to assess whether the Registrant currently poses a risk to the public, his profession or himself if allowed to work without restriction. The Panel had no references or folder of current training and CPD compliance placed before it. The Registrant gave testimony on the chronology of his work related activities and how he maintains his professional skills and knowledge.

33. The Panel heard the parties’ representations:

34. The HCPC accepted the evidence which the Registrant has given of his personal remediation, recuperation and insight into events. It was stressed however that the Panel should be mindful of the possibility of repetition, should the Registrant again think he can cope when he cannot. Whilst it is appreciated that this unusual and highly specific set of circumstances are highly unlikely to arise together again, other stressors and life events may culminate to undermine the work which the Registrant has undertaken to rebuild his professional and physical resilience.

35. The Registrant was fulsome in his acceptance of blame for what happened. His apology was clear, unambiguous and repeated at various stages of the hearing. He was remorseful and showed full insight into the behaviour which had led to his inability to identify and acknowledge that he was not coping and no longer able to compartmentalise personal and professional stressors. He told the Panel of the steps he has taken to rebuild a support network and to live a healthier and happier life. He is now able to identify personal wellbeing triggers which he has to act upon to avoid life and work stressors. What happened has been tempered with some positive and unexpected outcomes. He has come to the conclusion that he is no longer able and willing to put personal wellbeing or the solid foundation of family life at risk again by taking a role which would result in high levels of stress. He is currently working as a basic grade Social Worker and is not seeking a higher position and has not undertaken court related matters. He has identified other positions within the profession that may be more suited to his skills and knowledge other than front line child protection and court work.

36. In the Panel’s view the Registrant’s behaviour in 2015 was capable of remedy. It was an exceptionally stressful set of circumstances that came together in 2015 but the Registrant has been able to articulate how he addressed those circumstances. The Panel noted the insightful and modest way in which the Registrant described what he had learnt and gained from going through these highly adverse experiences. The Registrant has demonstrated that he has gained full insight and personal humility as a result and is more aware of his own fallibility.  He has identified the measures that are required to avoid a recurrence. The Registrant has also been able to demonstrate to the Panel that he has kept his skills and knowledge up to date through citing examples of the working parties and special projects he has been involved in recently. He also gave evidence of updating his knowledge through professional journals and online research and practice centres. The Panel considers that the Registrant has completed his journey to recovery and has adopted a realistic view of his future career which reflects his assessment of his abilities, frailties and expectations of himself. The Panel has therefore come to the conclusion that in relation to the personal component of its decision there has been full remediation and there is very little likelihood of repetition.

37. Turning to the public component, the Panel noted and accepted that on the face of it these events would be matters of concern to the public. Whilst it is unsatisfactory that four service users were disadvantaged by his actions this was fortunately a temporary situation for as the Panel heard, there was no long-term impact. Whilst these matters may be newsworthy, they reflect a discreet and isolated loss of function secondary to a combination of traumatic personal life events which occurred in the context of an otherwise unblemished long career. If the general public had knowledge of all the surrounding circumstances it may, in the Panel’s view, understand the effect on the Registrant’s practice of the extraordinary trigger factors and conclude that a finding of impairment on the grounds of the public interest was not necessary.  In all the circumstances, though these matters are serious they were not, in the Panel’s view, so serious, so undermining of the individual, his profession or the regulatory and disciplinary process as to warrant a mark of censure.

38. The Panel has therefore come to the conclusion that there is no current impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise.

Order

No information currently available

Notes

 

 


 


 

 

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Matthew M J Doyle

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
26/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing No further action