Mrs Kelly Anne Wheldrick
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While registered and employed as a Social Worker by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, you:
1. Accessed Service User A’s social care record without a professional reason for doing so, on or around:
a) 25 September 2014;
b) 2 October 2015;
c) 23 December 2015.
2. Accessed Service User B’s social care record without a professional reason for doing so, on or around 2 October 2015.
3. Between approximately 2014 -2015, accessed information relating to the address of a service user connected to Service User A, without a professional reason for doing so.
4. On dates between approximately 1 August 2014 and 8 January 2016, accessed the following service user social care records without a professional reason for doing so:
a) Service User C
b) Service User D
c) Service User E
d) Service User F
e) Service User G
f) Service User H
g) Service User I
h) Service User J
5. The matters as described in paragraphs 1 - 4 constitute misconduct.
6. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. The Panel had information before it that Notice of today’s hearing dated 2 August 2018 was sent to the Registrant’s address on the register on the same date by first class post. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was satisfied that service had been effected in accordance with Rules 3 and 6 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003.
Proceeding in the Registrant’s Absence
2. Ms Senior, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the Panel to proceed today. She informed the Panel that the Registrant has not corresponded or engaged at all with regard to today’s hearing. She has not therefore made any request for an adjournment and has voluntarily waived her right to attend. Ms Senior showed the Panel a letter dated 30 August 2018 which she emailed to the Registrant on that date, reminding her of today’s hearing, and stating that she can attend by telephone or provide written submissions. There has been no response. Ms Senior reminded the Panel that the Order expires on 12 October 2018 and in light of that imminent expiry, it is in the public interest to proceed.
3. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note entitled ‘Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant’ and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that the discretion to proceed in the absence of a Registrant should be exercised with the utmost care and caution. The Panel was of the view that there is no indication that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance at a future date on the basis of the lack of a response or request for an adjournment from the Registrant, and noting that she has not engaged with the HCPC for almost two years. The Panel took into account the potential disadvantage to the Registrant if it were to proceed. However, taking into account the lack of a response or request for an adjournment from the Registrant, the Panel was satisfied that it is in the public interest, as well as being fair, for today’s review to proceed expeditiously.
4. The Panel therefore decided to proceed today.
5. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker by Wakefield Council within the Shared Lives team from 23 April 2014. Previously she was employed by Wakefield Council in two Assessment and Child Protection teams from 24 August 2010 to 22 April 2014.
6. On 8 January 2016 the Team Manager of the Complex Care Needs team identified that the Registrant had on three separate occasions accessed the record of Service User A held on the Care Director system. Care Director is the electronic case record system used by Wakefield Council for all the social services departments within the authority. It holds all the referrals made to social services and records information relating to service users.
7. The Complex Care Needs team manager noticed this accessing of Service User A’s records when she was undertaking an audit of Service User A’s record prior to locking the record down. It was Wakefield Council’s policy to lock down or restrict access to case records of service users whose relatives were employed by the Council to help maintain confidentiality. When questioned, the Registrant admitted that she had accessed Service User A’s record on Care Director and also disclosed that she had accessed the Care Director record of the perpetrator of a crime against Service User A.
8. An investigation report was commissioned and during the investigation, it was found that the Registrant had also accessed the record of Service User B as well as records pertaining to other service users when she did not have an obvious work reason for doing so.
9. The Registrant resigned from her position on 12 July 2016. She has not engaged with the HCPC in relation to the current allegation since September 2016.
10. Ms Senior submitted that, in light of the lack of any evidence from the Registrant to address the concerns found, and the lack of evidence of insight before the Panel, the Registrant remains impaired. Ms Senior submitted that it would be appropriate and proportionate to impose a Striking Off Order. However, Ms Senior submitted in the alternative, that if the Panel did not agree, a further Suspension Order of 12 months would be proportionate.
11. There were no submissions from the Registrant before the Panel.
12. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
13. The Panel was aware that its purpose today was to conduct a comprehensive review of the Registrant’s fitness to return to unrestricted practice and considered the HCPTS Practice Note entitled ‘Review of Article 30 Sanction Orders’.
14. The Panel must exercise its own independent judgement with regard to impairment.
15. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired and took into account the HCPTS Practice Note on Impairment. In the Panel’s view, the failures found proved are, in principle, remediable. The Panel noted that the substantive hearing Panel found impairment both on the basis of the personal component as well as the public component, as did the first reviewing Panel.
16. The substantive hearing Panel read the Registrant’s resignation letter dated 12 July 2016 as well as her written statement for her disciplinary hearing dated 8 August 2016, and found that she had demonstrated an understanding that she should not have acted as she did, and expressed her remorse. However, that Panel found that the Registrant:
“has yet to evidence her full understanding of the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of records, regardless of whether the information is shared. In particular she has yet to evidence her understanding of the impact, or potential impact, of her breaches on the individuals whose confidentiality she compromised and on public confidence in the profession.”
17. That Panel therefore found that the Registrant had only “partial insight”.
18. There has been no evidence from the Registrant demonstrating the level of her insight since the substantive hearing. There is additionally no demonstration of an understanding of the potential impact of the breaches on, or potential harm caused to, individuals who are the subject of such breaches of confidentiality. Nor is there a demonstration of an understanding of the impact on public perception of such actions, or on public confidence in the profession. Further, there is a lack of evidence that she has taken any steps to address the misconduct found proved. These factors led the Panel to conclude that there is, at the present time, a real risk of repetition of a similar kind of behaviour in the future. As such, impairment remains on the basis of the personal component.
19. With regard to the public component, in light of the concerns which have not been addressed, and the lack of engagement in the regulatory process for almost two years, the Panel was satisfied that a fully informed and fair minded member of the public would be gravely concerned if the Registrant were returned to unrestricted practice. The Panel was therefore satisfied that the need to maintain public confidence in the profession and to uphold proper standards, would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances of this case.
20. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.
21. The Panel next went on to consider sanction, and took into account the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). The Panel bore in mind that sanction is a matter for its own independent judgment, and that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public. Further, any sanction must be proportionate, so that any order that it makes should be the least restrictive order necessary to protect the public interest, including public protection.
22. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct which has not been remedied, and the ongoing risk of repetition, it would be inappropriate to take no action. It would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.
23. The Panel then considered a Caution Order. The Panel noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which states:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate action.”
24. The Registrant’s misconduct was not isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, and furthermore, the Registrant has not demonstrated that she has taken any of the steps required to address that misconduct. Therefore, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to protect the public and meet the public interest.
25. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. Paragraph 33 of the ISP states that:
“Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases:
where the registrant has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process, lacks insight or denies any wrongdoing…”
26. On the basis of the Registrant’s lack of engagement there is no indication that she would be willing to comply with conditions. In this regard the Panel noted that the Registrant has not followed the recommendations of previous Panels to submit evidence which may be of assistance to Panels at reviews of the Suspension Order. Nor has she responded to the letter emailed to her on 30 August 2018 reminding her of today’s hearing. The Panel therefore decided that conditions would be unworkable and neither sufficient to protect the public, nor in the public interest.
27. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order and considered paragraph 39 of the ISP:
“Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited”.
28. Further paragraph 41 of the ISP states :
“If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate.”
29. The Panel was of the view that there is a real risk of repetition of the serious failings, and in light of the Registrant’s continued silence in the face of regulatory proceedings, she is either unable or unwilling to resolve her failings. The Panel took into account that the previous reviewing panel considered a Striking Off Order to be disproportionate at the time, but made clear in its decision that a Striking Off Order would be “a very real possibility” at today’s review. While today’s Panel is not bound by the previous decision, the Registrant was previously put on notice that striking off was a strong possibility today, and yet she still has not engaged with proceedings. Therefore, the underlying issues of a total lack of engagement with this and the previous two hearings, the lack of indication that the Registrant wishes to return to the profession, and the ongoing risk of repetition of similar misconduct, led the Panel to conclude that Suspension would not be appropriate or sufficient to protect the public or uphold the wider public interest.
30. The Panel considered the following paragraphs of 48 and 49 of the ISP which state:
“48. Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.
49. Striking off may also be appropriate where the nature and gravity of the allegation are such that any lesser sanction would lack deterrent effect or undermine confidence in the profession concerned or the regulatory process. Where striking off is used to address these wider public protection issues, Panels should provide clear reasons for doing so. Those reasons must explain why striking off is appropriate and not merely repeat that it is being done to deter others or maintain public confidence.”
31. The Panel took into account the continuing lack of engagement during the period of suspension over the last 6 months, the lack of any indication from the Registrant that she wishes to return to the profession, the lack of evidence of insight since the substantive hearing, or of resolution of the failures found proved, as well as the ongoing risk of repetition. The Registrant is either unable or unwilling to resolve the concerns. All of these factors led the Panel to decide that striking off is the only appropriate and proportionate way in which the public can be protected, and which can uphold the wider public interest.
32. In coming to this decision, the Panel took into account the principle of proportionality, and the impact that such a sanction will have on the Registrant’s right to practise her profession, as well as the likely reputational and financial impact. However, the Panel decided that the need to protect the public and uphold the public interest outweighed the Registrant’s interests in this regard.
33. The Panel therefore decided to impose a Striking Off Order which will come into effect on the expiry of the current Order.
That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Kelly Anne Wheldrick from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.
The order imposed today will apply from 12 October 2018 date