Sarah Ellen Price

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW15111

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 15/10/2018 End: 16:00 19/10/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

 

Allegation (as amended):

 

While registered as a Social Worker with the Health and Care Professions Council and during the course of your employment with Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, you:

 

1. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Service User A on 18 August 2016 between 2.30 pm and 4.30 pm, but you:

 

a) did not visit Service User A and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

b) made an appointment for 2.45 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment with a dietitian.

 

2. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Service User B on 1 September 2016 between 2.30 pm and 4.30 pm, but you:

 

a) did not visit Service User B and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

b) made an appointment for 2.45 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment with a dietitian.

 

3. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Service User C on 8 September 2016 between 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm, but you:

 

a) did not visit Service User C and/or Service User F in relation to Service User C, and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

b) made an appointment for 2.00 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment with a dietitian.

 

4. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be undertaking a joint visit to Service User D on 15 September 2016 with a colleague from MRL Agency between 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm, but you:

 

a) did not visit Service User D;

 

b) made an appointment for 2.00 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment with a dietitian.

 

5. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Millbrook Care Home and The Lakes Care Home on 16 September 2016 between 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm, but you:

 

a) did not visit Service User E or any other Service Users and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

b) did not visit Service User H or any other Service Users and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

c) made an appointment for 3.30 pm in your personal diary to attend a private nail appointment.

 

6. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Milbrook Care Home regarding Service User E and then Daughter 2 on 19 September 2016 between 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm, but you did not make those visits and/or did not make case notes of the visits.

 

7. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Millbrook Care Home and  The Lakes Care Home on 20 September 2016 between 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm, but you:

 

a) did not visit Service User E or any other Service Users and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

b) did not pick up any paperwork at Millbrook Care Home; 

 

c) did not visit Service User H and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

d) made an appointment for 3.00 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment with a solicitor.

 

8. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Service User F on 21 September 2016 between 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm, but you:

 

a) did not upload a record of the visit in a timely manner;

 

b) made an appointment for 3.00 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment at the estate agents.

 

9.Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Millbrook Care Home on 22 September 2016 between 2.00 pm and 3.30 pm, but you:

 

a) made a record at approximately 11.51 am of a visit to Service User E as having taken place at Millbrook Care Home;

 

b) did not update your Outlook calendar to reflect the new appointment time;

 

c) did not visit any Service Users between 2.00 pm and 3.30 pm and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

d) made an appointment for 2.00 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment with a dietitian.

 

10. Recorded in your Outlook calendar that you would be visiting Millbrook Care Home on 29 September 2016 between 2.00 pm and 3.00 pm but you:

 

a) did not visit Service User E or any other Service Users and/or did not make a case note of the visit;

 

b) made an appointment for 2.00 pm in your personal diary to attend a private appointment with a dietitian.

 

11. On 3 October 2016:

 

a) told your colleague in Business Support that you were going straight to a visit that morning when you did not;

 

b) falsely recorded in your Outlook calendar that you had met with Daughter 2 at Millbrook care home when you had not made such a visit;

 

c) did not make a visit to Service User I despite having recorded such a visit in your Outlook calendar.

 

12. Recorded that on 4 October 2016 you had met with two family members of Service User E when one of those family members was out of the country.

 

13. The matters described at paragraphs 1 – 12 constitute dishonesty.

 

14. The matters described at paragraphs 1-13 constitute misconduct.

 

15. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Application to amend the Particulars

1. Mr Dite for the HCPC explained that the HCPC sought to amend the allegation.  This had been sent to and was agreed by the Registrant.  He explained the amendment was proposed to better reflect the evidence and clarify matters. The proposed amendments made no difference to the mischief alleged and did not alter the nature or gravity of the allegations. Mr Walker for the Registrant confirmed that he agreed to the proposed amendments. 

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who reminded it to exercise its discretion bearing in mind the interests of justice and fairness to the parties. The Registrant had received notice of these proposed amendments and her representative did not object to any of the proposed amendments. In the circumstances the Panel considered that it was fair and appropriate to allow the proposed amendments which served to clarify the position and better reflect the evidence.


Application to hear matters in private

3. Mr Dite explained that private matters may arise during the course of the hearing.  The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who referred it to the HCPTS Practice Note on Conducting Hearings in Private. Mr Walker did not object. The Panel determined that where a Registrant’s interests outweighed the public interest and it was in the interests of justice to do so, it would hear in private any such parts of the evidence, if and when they arose.

Background:

4. Mr Dite set out the background.  The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker at Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (‘the Council’) between 18 July 2016 and 6 October 2016, when she resigned.   The Registrant worked in the Assessment and Care Management Team, assessing service users’ needs. Witnesses CA and LG were the Registrant’s Line Managers in this period.

5. On 3 October 2016 CA noticed that the Registrant had not arrived at the office that morning. On making enquiries CA found that the Registrant had telephoned Business Support, rather than a manager, to inform them that she was going directly from home to visit a service user.  It was noticed by CA that the visit was not recorded in the Outlook calendar used in the office and this raised concerns. Later on 3 October 2016 the Registrant told CA she was visiting a Service User I. Her manager, LG became concerned that there was a second visit to Service User I the next day. As a result, concerns about the Registrant’s whereabouts and time management were raised.

6. The Registrant’s managers, CA and LG looked into the matter. The Registrant resigned on 6 October 2016. She had left a paper diary in the Council’s offices. As a result of the Council’s investigation, a number of serious discrepancies were found in the Registrant’s records of visits to service users, some of which had not taken place. There were discrepancies between the paper diary and the work Outlook calendar. There were private appointments in the paper diary and when this was compared with the Outlook calendar showed visits planned to service users at the same time.CA conducted a wider investigation, this investigation gave rise to the referral by the Council to the HCPC and to the allegation.

Witness 1 - CA

7. The witness took the oath and confirmed that her witness statement was true to the best of her knowledge and belief.  She is a registered Social Worker. She explained that she is now a Service Unit Manager. She was the Registrant’s Line Manager until LG took over that role in 24 August 2016.  CA was referred to her witness statement and she confirmed that she had conducted the Registrant’s induction when she joined the Council.  Subsequently, she had conducted the investigation after the Registrant had resigned. 

8. CA explained she had become aware of issues with the Registrant when LG raised them with her.  CA said that the Registrant seemed to be unhappy and lose confidence at work.  It emerged that the Registrant had some personal issues. CA explained the importance of the social worker team using the Outlook calendar to remain accountable for the hours worked. She explained the flexible working at the Council and how time off had to be approved by management.

9. CA explained to the Panel how the diary system worked and why concerns about the Registrant’s whereabouts had arisen. It was important that the Registrant’s whereabouts were known to ensure safety and accountability. CA explained to the Panel the Outlook calendar entries relating to Service User I on 3 and 4 October 2016 which meant that two visits were carried out in two days.  There was only one case record relating to Service User I and that was not a visit. 

10. Despite the Registrant’s resignation on 6 October 2016, CA explained that the concerns were such that an investigation was carried out into the Registrant’s practise.  The Registrant had left a paper diary on her desk and CA said that the Registrant had told her that the Registrant had used this as her work diary.  CA said she explained to the Registrant that as the diary had service users names recorded therein, this meant that the paper diary could not be returned to her and it was subsequently considered as a part of the Council’s investigation.

11. CA told the Panel about the result of her investigations in relation to Service Users A, B, C, D, E, F, H and I. CA reviewed the individual service user records and cross referenced them to the Registrant’s diary entries and the Outlook calendar.  CA’s investigation revealed that the Registrant had, on six occasions throughout August, September and October 2016 visited the dietitian at times when her diary stated she was at work and visiting a specific service user. On other occasions, CA told the Panel that her investigations showed that the Registrant had made appointments to see an estate agent, solicitor and a nail appointment despite her diary indicating visits to specific service users.  On other occasions, the Registrant had simply not made the visits indicated by her diary entries. 

12. CA explained to the Panel that in respect of Service User F, the Registrant had failed to complete the record as expected the day after the visit had taken place.  There was no formal Council policy as to the timeliness of completing records, but 24 hours was well known and understood and was the expected timescale. CA also explained that the Registrant had claimed she met Service User E at a time when she did not do so, and had a dietitian appointment in her diary at that time. CA told the Panel that the Registrant had also recorded that she had met two family members of Service User E on 4 October 2016, when one of the family members had been out of the country.

Cross examination of witness CA

13. CA told the Panel that she knew about the Registrant’s work experience from the Council’s personnel records. She explained about LG taking over the supervision of the Registrant and that the computer system could be difficult to use, even with training.   CA said that LG was a supportive manager. CA said that she had noticed that the Registrant had become quieter and said that LG had told her that LG felt her relationship with the Registrant had changed.  She knew that the Registrant had been heard to express the view to another colleague that LG needed to “back off”. CA said that the Registrant had been open about her personal situation in the team and she knew that the Registrant had been allowed flexi leave to attend an appointment with a solicitor.

14. CA said that at the time she did not consider the Registrant’s personal issues would affect her work, as the Registrant had been open and seemed confident about the situation. CA said that LG dealt more closely with the Registrant as her Line Manager and knew more about those issues.

15. In response to Panel questions about Service User E, CA clarified her understanding of the records for the 22 September 2016.  She took the view that the record did not indicate a visit being made, but rather a telephone call. 

16. She told the Panel about the stress risk assessment, which can be carried out for members of staff.  She recalled it was about work load and not personal issues.  As the investigator, CA said that she had not looked specifically at the impact on service users, but it did not appear that there had been any actual harm to service users. There was an impact on the Council as dishonesty was alleged and it was public money that is used to fund the service.

17. CA explained to the Panel the induction process, including training on the Outlook calendar recording system.  This took place in the first or second week after the Registrant joined the Council.  CA also explained that it was made clear at induction that full flexibility on working hours was not available to Social Workers and that the essential core hours applied unless specifically agreed with management.  On the issue of workload, CA said the average was 20-25 cases and, as a result of more regular supervisions, there was an awareness of the Registrant’s workload. The Registrant had also had a short period of sick leave and annual leave. CA said that the appointments being considered in this allegation were not taking place during the lunch period and any flexi arrangements would have to have been agreed with management.

Witness 2 – LG

18. The witness affirmed and confirmed that her witness statement was true to the best of her knowledge and belief. She is a registered Social Worker.  She confirmed that she was the Registrant’s Line Manager from 24 August 2016 and she has worked at the Council in social work since 2012.

19. LG told the Panel that when she returned to work after leave she had taken over line management for the Registrant, who had been off that week on annual leave. She carried out supervision meetings and she explained the diary records to the Panel.  She had arranged for the Registrant to have a one to one session with the IT training person.

20. In her role as Line Manager, LG said she had checked the support plans prepared by the Registrant and she had raised some issues with the initial assessments. LG was told by a colleague that the Registrant had said to her that LG needed to “back off”.  LG then arranged an informal meeting with the Registrant to explore matters and LG said that the Registrant seemed to better understand the line management relationship   Thereafter, LG said that the Registrant had told her she felt “overwhelmed”. LG then sought to support the Registrant with more frequent, weekly supervision meetings, did not allocate further cases the following week and discussed time management strategies.

21. LG said she had discussed the issue of lunch hours with the Registrant and she had seemed fine about that.  She had wanted to build up some time to make personal appointments. LG had explained to the Registrant that any change to hours had to be agreed with management and there was a permitted, maximum of 7.5 hours per month of flexi-time.

22. LG explained her understanding of the issues regarding Service User E.  LG understood that the Registrant had met with the daughter of that service user on 3 October 2018.  However, when she spoke with the daughter on 4 October, LG was told by her that she had not met with the Registrant the previous day, but had received a text message from her.  LG explained her concerns about both Service Users E and I, particularly given that LG was not able to get the Registrant on the telephone.  LG had contacted the Care Home Manager and there was no record of the Registrant attending to meet with service user E on 3 or 4 October 2016.

Cross-examination of LG

23. LG accepted that the Registrant was not familiar with the particular area of social work done by the team at the Council.  She had come from a mental health background and was only 2 years qualified.  LG said she learned about the comments made by the Registrant to a colleague about LG needing to “back off” on 13 September 2016.  She learned that from that colleague and was concerned that the Registrant was not approaching LG for support.

24. LG said she arranged a meeting and the Registrant had told her that she felt “overwhelmed.”  The Registrant had told her about some personal issues at the supervision meeting on 28 September 2018. LG could not recall knowing about those issues before that date.  LG said she recalled that the Registrant had at times been stressed, but not for the whole period of her time at the Council, and things had improved after the 28 September meeting.  LG did not think that the stress the Registrant exhibited was as a result of her personal circumstances, rather it was part of the role.

25. In response to Panel questions, LG said that an average workload for an experienced Social Worker was about 30 cases.  On joining, a new member of the team would start with about 5 cases and it would build up over time. That would depend on the type of case and the Social Worker but it would be expected that after two months that you could handle 10 cases.  The Registrant’s records for 20 September 2016 showed 14 cases but that would include carers as well as service users.

26. LG told the Panel that the Registrant had told her she was “overwhelmed” by the type of work and the recording system.  LG did not recall whether personal issues had been raised by the Registrant at Supervision meetings, but she considered that was not likely given that she had made no notes in that regard.  LG further explained the flexi-time arrangements and the need to agree that with management.  She also explained the stress risk assessment process, which was a tool that could be used to asses stress, but she told the Panel that the Registrant had declined her offer to conduct that process. LG said that the Registrant had improved and that they were working well together at the point when the Registrant had resigned.  With hindsight, she did not consider that there was anything more she could have done to support the Registrant.

27. LG said that she had considered the impact on service users as the Registrant had failed to see some of her service users despite the diary entries.  LG said that it may have been that those service users did not get the visits that they should have received.  There should have been active involvement by the Social Worker as visits were important.

Application for evidence by telephone

28. Mr Walker applied to have two witnesses JC and JH, attend and give evidence by telephone.  They are two of the Registrant’s current managers and are able to speak to her current practise as a Social Worker and to her character. Mr Dite had no objection to the application.

29. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who reminded it of its powers of case management and the importance of fairness, proportionality and expediency in the management of proceedings.  The Panel determined that it was fair and appropriate to allow the evidence of these witnesses to be taken by telephone. 

The Registrant’s evidence

30. The Registrant affirmed and confirmed that her statement of 14 October 2018 was true to the best of her knowledge and belief.  She confirmed that she admitted dishonesty and that her conduct fell far below what is acceptable. She expressed sorrow and regret for her actions.  She told the Panel about her stressful, personal circumstances.

31. The Registrant told the Panel about her current practise as a Social Worker.   She had worked without restriction for a number of other employers since the events in the allegation.  This was mainly within community mental health teams (CMHT), which had been her previous experience. She also had a period of unemployment and lost one position due to the HCPC referral.

32. The Registrant told the Panel that her current employment was with Bolton CMHT where she worked as a Social Worker.  Her case load was approximately 30 service users and she dealt with complex mental health issues. She receives monthly line management and clinical supervision. She advised the Panel that all of her employers had been made aware of the HCPC referral and allegation.

33. The Registrant said that her personal circumstances had improved. She understood her behaviour breached the HCPC Code of Conduct. She had reflected on her actions and had sought external supervision/counselling over the last six months.   She ensured that her manager was aware of her whereabouts throughout the day and uses the diary system properly.

34. With regard to the allegation the Registrant could not recall if she had actually missed any appointments with service users. She said that at the time of the allegation she was having trouble sleeping. She had let her private issues become a priority. The Registrant said she was now more aware of her limitations and takes regular holidays and seeks regular clinical and management supervisions. She said she now has a very supportive husband and friends.

35. The Registrant said she is a changed person and loves her job and was sorry for her behaviour. She said she had remorse and guilt for her behaviour and felt she was a good Social Worker.

Cross-examination of the Registrant

36.  Mr Dite for the HCPC questioned the Registrant. The Registrant said she admitted putting false entries in the Outlook calendar at work.  This was to allow her to get out of the office and for personal appointments.  She said she was very stressed and tired at the time and felt that the atmosphere in the office was overbearing.

37. The Registrant explained her absences from the office for personal appointments and that she fabricated appointments with a number of service users to cover these up.  She said that although she knew the proper procedure for arranging to take time for personal matters, she had not followed it and she knew that what she did was wrong. She told the Panel that she had no explanation for why she had not recorded her visit to Service User F within the expected 24 hour period.

38. The Registrant could not recall the position in respect of the daughter of Service User E on 16 September 2016.  She confirmed that she did not see Service User E on 29 September 2016 and that she had stayed in bed on the morning of 3 October 2016 as she felt unwell. The Registrant accepted that she did not meet both daughters of Service User E on 4 October 2016 as one had been on holiday.

39. The Registrant said that she was under a lot of stress at the time and she should have sought help from her doctor, and perhaps ought to have taken time off. She had not realised her practise was affected at the time and had been trying to “soldier through”.  She said she was not thinking and she knew she was doing wrong in making false diary entries.  She accepted that she had let private issues affect her practise and had been dishonest.

40. In response to Panel questions, the Registrant said she had not had much induction and did not fully understand the flexi-time arrangements.

41.  Having read her recorded notes about Service User E, the Registrant could not remember how she had obtained that information and did not recall any particular telephone call or visit.

42. The Registrant was not able to explain further her position in respect of the events and the records of 22 September 2016. The Registrant agreed with Mr Walker that the records for the care home appeared to show her attending a meeting with service user E on 22 September 2016 at 9.30am.

43. The Registrant said she was presently completing a professional development portfolio, but it was not easy as an agency Social Worker. She had done the mandatory training required and e-learning in several social work areas.

(Due to witness availability it was agreed to interpose witnesses 3 and 4 who were heard between the examination and cross examination of the Registrant.)

Witness 3 – JC (by telephone)

44. JC affirmed.  He is a Team Manager at the Bolton Community Mental Health Team.  He told the Panel about the circumstances which led to the employment of the Registrant as an agency Social Worker. He was well aware of the HCPC allegation and had taken up references for the Registrant.  He said the Registrant was transparent and she had told all the managers, from the start, about the HCPC allegation. The Registrants had been “extremely honest” and she was a valued member of the team and an exceptional worker with a difficult and complex case load but she was willing to acknowledge her limitations.  JC said the Registrant fully engaged with, and sought, regular supervision. 

45. JC told the Panel that the Registrant had developed a good therapeutic relationship with service users and that any restriction on her practice would have a serious impact on those service users, and a detrimental effect on their recovery.  He said he was aware that the Registrant’s practise was not currently restricted by the HCPC and she practiced at a high level.

Cross-examination of JC

46. In response to Mr Dite for the HCPC, JC said that he had read the allegation. He said his experience of the Registrant was such that he could not understand how the allegation arose. He was shocked about the mis-management of time keeping as his experience of the Registrant was that she was very reliable and her time management was “faultless”.   If a member of his team did the things alleged he would question why the team member had not felt able to discuss issues with their manager and, possibly, arrange flexi- time arrangements.

47.  JC told the Panel that the Registrant had explained to him when she was recruited, her personal circumstances at the time of the allegation and the impact on her. She had been open and honest about the impact that had and her reflection on her actions.  He said he had not had contact with the Registrant prior to contacting the employment agency. He was not currently the Registrant’s Line Manager and he was aware of the stress of the on-going HCPC proceedings but said the Registrant continued to practise appropriately. JC said the allegation stood in stark contrast to the person he had employed and the way the Registrant worked in his team. 

Witness 4 – JH (by telephone)

48.  JH affirmed.  She is a Senior Practitioner for Social Work on the Bolton Community Mental Health Team and is the Registrant’s supervisor.  She undertakes supervision with the Registrant and as part of this completes audits of the Registrant’s work. She stated that she had no concerns about the Registrant’s honesty and integrity.  She said that the Registrant on a daily basis gives her whereabouts, often discusses cases and seeks support and advice.  She found the Registrant to be a good Social Worker.

49. JH said that she had been aware of the HCPC allegation when the Registrant started in the team and said she had more recently seen and read the allegation. She had discussed the HCPC allegation with the Registrant at several supervision sessions and the Registrant had been open about it. JH said the current stressor on the Registrant was the present HCPC proceedings and she said the Registrant had carried on with her work to a very high standard.

50. In the future, JH said she hoped that the Registrant would join the team as a permanent member of staff. Any sanctions applied would be detrimental to her case load and service users. JH said that the allegation seemed to relate to a different person from the one she knew. Her time keeping always tallied up with other records and she said no concerns had been raised about the Registrant’s practise.

51. JH confirmed that she had seen the HCPC allegation before she made her written statement for the hearing. She said she had written the statement for the HCPC hearing in early October 2018.  JH said that if a team member did what was alleged she would try to explore why they were behaving that way, and why the issues had not been discussed. She understood that Registrant had been experiencing personal problems at the time of the allegation. She said that did not have contact with, or know, the Registrant before working with her.

Closing Submissions for the HCPC

52. Mr Dite for the HCPC summarised the evidence and submitted that the evidence of the HCPC witnesses was both credible and reliable. Mr Dite submitted that the Registrant’s admissions under affirmation were part of the evidence for the Panel to consider and were highly relevant and persuasive.  He submitted there would require to be good reason to go against those admissions. Mr Dite reminded the Panel about the law as to dishonesty and referred to the guidance of the Supreme Court in Ivey v Genting Casino (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords [2017] UKSC 67.  The Registrant had said under affirmation that she knew her actions on particular 1-12 were dishonest.

53. Mr Dite reminded the Panel of the definition and case law in respect of misconduct, and that the Registrant admitted misconduct. That was, however, a matter for the judgement for the Panel and there must be a serious falling short by the Registrant of the standard to be expected of a Social Worker.   Mr Dite submitted that the Registrant had breached Standards 1, 9 and 10 of the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, and Standards 3 and 10 of the HCPC Social Work Standards.

54. Mr Dite reminded the Panel of the law as to a finding of impairment of fitness to practise and he referred to the HCPTS Practice Note on impairment.  He submitted that the Panel must consider both the personal and the public component of impairment.   He referred to the need to uphold proper standards and maintain confidence in the profession, and submitted that the HCPC consider that a finding the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not impaired would undermine public confidence in the profession.  The Registrant’s dishonesty was serious and was repeated over some 1½ months, and it impacted on colleagues and service users.  Honesty was a fundamental tenet of the profession.

Closing submissions for the Registrant

55. Mr Walker made submissions regarding impairment.  He reminded the Panel that the Registrant had admitted the allegation including dishonesty, and he submitted that her fitness to practise was impaired at the time.  He referred to the need to look to those past actions when assessing current impairment.  As regards the personal component, Mr Walker accepted that dishonesty was difficult to remediate, but submitted that it can be remediated through good, honest practice and evidence of insight.

56. Mr Walker submitted that the Registrant has shown full insight of the impact of her behaviour and that it is not likely to repeated. She had addressed her personal circumstances.  As to the public component of impairment, Mr Walker submitted that the Registrant was a relatively junior Social Worker with only 2 years’ service at the time and had been very stressed and tired and had found the office “overbearing”.  Her private life was stressful and Mr Walker submitted that her employer had not fully appreciated that.  There was no evidence of any adverse impact on service users or colleagues. The Registrant had admitted the allegation at an early stage and all her referees had been aware of the allegation.

57. Mr Walker referred to the positive references and the compelling oral evidence from two of her current managers.  He submitted that the behaviour of the Registrant at the Council was an exception and occurred whilst she was suffering difficult, personal circumstances. She had already lost employment as a result.   Mr Walker submitted that a member of the public with full knowledge of the case would not be surprised by a finding of no impairment.  He referred to the evidence indicating the loss to service users that could result from any restriction of the Registrant’s practise.  He submitted that there is a spectrum of dishonesty and that all findings of dishonesty do not require a finding of impairment. He submitted that the present case did not require such a finding.

58. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that when considering the facts the standard of proof was the balance of probabilities and that the Panel needed to assess and weigh all the evidence carefully. He reminded it of the definitions of misconduct in Roylance v GMC (No. 2) [2001] 1 AC 311 and Meadow v GMC [2007] 1 All ER 1. On the issue of impairment, he reminded the Panel of the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired and in CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin). He reminded the Panel of the central importance of the public interest including the protection of the public, upholding proper standards and maintaining public confidence in the profession and the regulator.  The issues of misconduct and impairment were matters for the professional judgement of the Panel.

59. As to the allegation of dishonesty the Legal Assessor referred the Panel of the objective test for dishonesty and the guidance in the case of Ivey v Genting Casino (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords where the Supreme Court stated :-

“When once his actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts is established, the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest".

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

Assessment of the Evidence

61. The Panel considered all the evidence from the witnesses and in the documents before it both from the HCPC and the Registrant. The Panel found both CA and LG honest, open, reliable, credible and consistent. Both sought to assist the Panel where they could.

62. The Panel considered that that both JC and JH were clear and both were aware of the full details of the allegation.  The Panel found both witnesses to be helpful, credible and reliable.

63. The Registrant was open and consistent. The Panel found her genuine and credible and she readily accepted where she could not recall matters. Her written submission was clear and consistent with her oral evidence.

Decision on Facts:

Sub-particulars 1, 2, 3 and 4 - Proved

64. The Panel found these sub-particulars proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG. The Registrant did not visit the service users A, B, C & D and instead visited a dietitian.

Sub-particular 5 - Proved

65. The Panel found this proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG. It found that the Registrant did attend a nail appointment and did not visit service user H.

Sub-particular 6 - Proved

66. The Panel found this proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG.  It found that the Registrant did not make a visit or make case notes of a visit to service user E.

Sub-particular 7 - Proved

67. The Panel found this proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions and the evidence of CA and LG It found that the Registrant did attend a solicitors appointment, did not pick up paperwork from a care home, did not visit service user E and H and did not make case notes.

Sub-particular 8 – Proved

68. The Panel found this proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG. It found that whilst there was no formal policy at the Council at to the timeliness of uploading records that in light of the evidence of what was known and expected in that regard, the Registrant had failed to make a timely record.

Sub-particular 9 – Proved in part; 9(b) not proved

69. The Panel considered the Outlook calendar in the documentary evidence which does contain an entry with a new appointment and so, despite the admission, it found 9 (b) not proved.  On the basis of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG, it found the remainder of the particular proved.

Sub-particular 10 – Proved

70. The Panel found this proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG.

Sub-particular 11 – Proved

71. The Panel found this proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG.

Sub-particular 12 – Proved

72. The Panel found this proved in light of the Registrant’s admissions, the documentary evidence and the evidence of CA and LG. The Registrant was clear that she had not met two members of the family of service user E on the date alleged.

Sub-particular 13 - Dishonesty

73. The Panel carefully considered the ‘Ivey’ test for dishonesty.  It determined that sub-particular 8 (a) was not, when viewed objectively, dishonest.  It determined that sub-particular 9(a) was, in fact, honest.  The evidence was that the Registrant had made a record of a visit that had been made.

74. The Panel accepted the evidence of the Registrant that she knew that what she did was dishonest. She deliberately made false diary entries.  Viewed objectively those actions were dishonest. The Panel found all the remaining particulars alleged were dishonest.

Decision on Grounds – Misconduct

75. The Panel considered the allegation and its findings of fact including dishonesty.  It applied the test in ‘Roylance’.  It found that sub-particulars 8 (a) and 9(a) do not fall far short of the standard to be expected and do not amount to misconduct.  The Panel determined that the remainder of the particulars involve pre-meditated, planned and repeated dishonest behaviour over some 1½ months.  That behaviour breached fundamental tenets of the profession, namely honesty and integrity.  The Registrant’s behaviour fell seriously short of what would be proper in the circumstances and amount to misconduct.

76. The Panel found that the Registrant breached Standards 6.1, 7.4, 9.1, 10.1 of the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics.

Decision on Impairment

77. The Panel carefully considered the HCPTS Practice Note on Impairment and the guidance in ‘Grant’. The Panel concluded that the Registrant was impaired at the time of the allegation, as accepted by her. 

78. The Registrant has shown genuine remorse, shame and regret.  The Panel heard evidence that the Registrant has resolved her difficult personal issues which the Panel consider had a significant impact on her behaviour and undermined her professional judgement.  The Registrant gave compelling evidence in both her written and oral evidence as to her insight.  The Panel accepted that evidence and determined that the Registrant has developed full insight.  She has reflected carefully and she has strategies for coping with difficulties in the future.  In all these circumstances, the Panel determined that the Registrant is unlikely to be repeat her dishonest behaviour and there is a low risk of repetition. 

79. The Panel concluded that the Registrant has remediated her practice.  She has worked without restriction as a Social Worker for some time since the time of the allegation.  There was cogent and compelling evidence from her current employers that the Registrant is a valuable team member and a good Social Worker.  The evidence from her employers about the Registrant’s current practise is that she has developed good therapeutic relationships with service users with complex mental health issues and her employers think highly of her abilities as a Social Worker.  Some of her abilities were described by JC as “exceptional”.  On the personal component, the Panel found that the Registrant has fully remediated her practise.

80. The Panel also considered the public component of impairment.  It considered the importance of maintaining confidence in the profession and upholding proper standards.  The issue of protecting service users does not arise given the Panel’s findings as to low risk of repetition and full insight and remediation.

81. The Panel considered that the falsification of records and diary entries is a serious matter and it determined that there was likely to have been an impact on service users, colleagues, her employer and the profession as a result of the repeated dishonesty.  Vulnerable service users were not visited and colleagues were misled by the Registrant.  There was evidence that the Registrant worked in a busy team and she was attending personal appointments in her employer’s time when she knew her colleagues were under considerable pressure.  The Panel were also mindful that there was pre-meditation in the Registrant’s behaviour, which she knew was dishonest.

82. The Panel considered what an informed member of the public would make of the Registrant’s behaviour.  The findings of fact are of pre-meditated, planned and dishonest actions over 1½ months. It determined that a member of the public would be very concerned were the Panel not to find the Registrant’s fitness to practise impaired.  The Panel concluded that its findings of dishonesty and misconduct are such that a finding of impairment is required in the public interest in order to uphold proper standards of conduct and to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulator.

83. The Panel determined that on public interest grounds the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Submissions on Sanction

84. Mr Dite reminded the Panel of the terms of the HCPC Indicative Sanction Policy (ISP) and the need to bear in mind the public interest and to act proportionately. He submitted that paragraph 6 of the ISP was of particular note given its guidance on the importance of the public interest. He asked the Panel to consider sanction in ascending order and to apply the least restrictive sanctions it considered was required to protect the public and the public interest.  He submitted that a Conditions of Practise Order would not seem appropriate in this case, however sanction was a matter for the Panel.

85. Mr Walker submitted that a Caution Order would appropriately mark the dishonest conduct found proved.  He reminded the Panel that the Registrant admitted the allegation from an early stage and had not sought to minimise her actions.  She accepted the findings and understood the wider public interest.  She had already lost employment as a result of the HCPC proceedings and she has suffered the stress of the HCPC proceedings. He submitted that a Caution Order would uphold proper standards and mark the conduct as unacceptable.

86. Mr Walker told the Panel that at the time of the allegation the Registrant was struggling with difficult personal circumstances. He said that the allegation was an aberration in the Registrant’s character and she was previously of good character.  He submitted that her good character should be borne in mind when considering sanction.

87. Mr Walker referred to the positive references before the Panel.  He submitted that the Registrant was an exceptional Social Worker and that was supported by the evidence from her managers. She exceeded expectations in a number of areas and the evidence from her present managers was that the Registrant was honest, hard-working and had an excellent work ethic. There were plain benefits to the Registrant remaining in the profession.

88. Mr Walker referred to proportionality and the need to strike a balance between the Registrant and the public interest.  He referred to the ISP, at paragraph 28, which provides guidance on imposing a Caution Order.  He submitted that the Registrant was a committed, competent and professional Social Worker.  He reminded the Panel that both JC and JH had asked that the Registrant’s practise remain unrestricted so that she can continue to provide support to the service users on her caseload.  He submitted that a Caution Order for a medium period would be proportionate and was the appropriate sanction in these circumstances.

89. Mr Walker submitted that Conditions of Practice and Suspension were disproportionate.  A Suspension Order would cause the Registrant serious financial hardship and prevent her from demonstrating her fitness to practise.

90. The Legal Assessor referred the Panel to the ISP and reminded it of the need to act proportionately.  He advised the Panel to consider sanction in ascending order and to apply the least restrictive sanction necessary to protect the public and the wider public interest. It should also consider any aggravating and mitigating factors, bear in mind the central importance of the public interest, and that the primary purpose of sanction was protection of the public. He reminded the Panel it should take account of the Registrant’s previous good character. 

Decision on Sanction

91. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and it approached sanction, beginning with the least restrictive first, bearing in mind the need for proportionality. It carefully considered the ISP, the public interest and the Registrant’s insight.  

92. The Panel first considered any aggravating and mitigating factors and it found as follows.

93. Aggravating factors :

i. The conduct was deliberate and planned

ii. The conduct took place over a period of 1 ½ months

iii. The Registrant misled her managers and colleagues

iv. The conduct wasted vital social work resources that could have been used for the benefit of other service users

94. Mitigating factors :

i. The Registrant’s previous good character

ii. A 24 year career in social care, most recently as a Social Worker

iii. Evidence of a working to a high standard in her current employment

iv. All referees knew about the allegation and all but one had worked with the Registrant

v. Early admissions and no deflection of blame

vi. No evidence of any actual harm to service users

vii. Difficult personal circumstances at the time of the allegation

viii. Full engagement by the Registrant in the HCPC process

95. The Panel decided that taking no further action would not reflect the seriousness of the allegation found proved and the finding of dishonesty and impairment. The order would not satisfy the public interest and the importance of maintaining confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, nor would it serve to declare and uphold proper standards.  Such orders would fail to provide a deterrent effect and would not send the appropriate message to the profession, or the public.  The Panel concluded that taking no action was not appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case.

96. Mediation was not appropriate in this case as there are no unresolved issues.

97. The Panel next considered a Caution Order.  The Panel carefully considered the ISP and in particular paragraphs 28 and 29 on Caution Orders. The Panel has found impairment on public interest grounds alone.  It has found that the Registrant has fully remediated her practise, has developed full insight and that there is a low risk of repetition. The evidence is that she is now a credit to her profession and is highly thought of by her current managers.  Further, the evidence was that the Registrant’s behaviour at the time of the allegation was out of character.

98. The Panel is mindful of the finding of dishonesty, however the evidence clearly demonstrates that the Registrant has full insight and is now a valuable member of the profession.  It is not in the public interest to restrict the practice of a professional who has demonstrated full remediation and where there is cogent evidence that they are a capable and highly competent professional who practises effectively.  JC, one of her managers, told the Panel that any restriction on the Registrant would be detrimental to the service users on her caseload.

99. The Panel concluded that in these circumstances a Caution Order would mark the seriousness of the Panel’s findings and be proportionate in the circumstances of this case.  The Panel considered the appropriate period. It balanced the Registrant’s interests with the need to take account of the public interest.  It determined that in light of the finding of dishonesty, and given the need to uphold proper standards and confidence in the profession, that a Caution Order for a period of three years was appropriate and proportionate.  That period would serve to remind the Registrant and the profession of the seriousness and the unacceptability of the Registrant’s previous conduct. 

100. The Panel considered that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate, workable or realistic given its finding of dishonesty.  There are no conditions it could devise that would sufficiently address dishonesty.

101. The Panel seriously considered a Suspension Order but concluded that it would be inappropriate and disproportionate.  Given the evidence of the Registrant’s practice, a Suspension Order would not serve the public interest, the Registrant or the service users and would be penal.

102. The Panel impose a Caution Order on the Registrant for a period of three years.

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Miss Sarah Ellen Price with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of 3 years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

 

 

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Sarah Ellen Price

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/10/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution