Mrs Deborah Johnson

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW93641

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 28/02/2019 End: 17:00 28/02/2019

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed by Hull City Council, you:

 

1. Made mileage claims for journeys to Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, claiming to visit a service user, which were not undertaken on:

a. 13 August 2014;

b. 18 September 2014;

c. 8 October 2014;

d. 11 November 2014;

e. 11 December 2014;

f. 11 February 2015.

 

2. The matters described at particular 1 were dishonest.

 

3. The described at particulars 1 and 2 constitute misconduct.

 

4. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Finding

Findings of the substantive hearing panel

1. The panel at the Substantive Hearing found particulars 1(a), 1(b), 1(c), 1(d), 1(e), 1(f) and 2 found proved, that these particulars amounted to misconduct and that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.

2. At the first Review Hearing, on 20 October 2017, the Registrant did not attend but was represented. The Registrant’s representative confirmed, on that occasion, that he had full instructions to proceed in her absence. The Panel found that Ms Johnson remained impaired and imposed a twelve month Suspension Order.

3. At the second Review Hearing, on 26 October 2018, the Registrant was present via the telephone and was represented by Counsel (in person). The panel found Ms Johnson remained impaired and imposed a four month Suspension Order.

Preliminary Matters:

Additional Documentation provided at the hearing

4. The Panel was provided with additional documents by the parties. The HCPC provided the Panel with the determination of the Conduct and Competence Committee, dated 28-29 November 2018. The Panel labelled this bundle ‘B2’.

5. The Registrant provided the Panel with a document titled ‘Statement’, which the Panel labelled as pages 41- 48, following on from the pagination of the HCPC main bundle. The document provides the Panel with the Registrant’s reflections on her conduct.

6. The Registrant’s representative also provided a document titled ‘Chronology’. The document set out the timeline of events in respect of each aspect of the case and the Registrant’s conduct. The Panel paginated this document as page 49.

7. The Registrant also provided an additional bundle of documents titled ‘Registrant’s bundle’, which set out a number of testimonials provided by colleagues and friends of the Registrant. The Panel paginated this bundle from pages 50-55.

8. After reading the additional documentation the Panel noted that there was reference to two previous reflective pieces provided to previous panels dated the 28 August 17 and 25 August 17, which the Panel had not had sight of. The Panel requested that the documents be furnished to them. The reflective piece dated the 25 August 17 was paginated as 58 -60 and the reflective piece dated 28 August 17 was paginated as 56-57.

Application for hearing to be heard in private

9. Mr Smith, on behalf of the Registrant, submitted that parts of the hearing should be conducted in private, under Rule 10(1)(a) of the Health Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 submitting that evidence relating to the Registrant’s health and the health of members of her family would be provided to the Panel and therefore those matters of the case should be considered in private.

10. Ms Simpson, on behalf of the HCPC, did not object.

11. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice which had drawn their attention to the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Conducting Hearings in Private’.

12. The Panel ordered that the requisite parts of the evidence, pertaining to the Registrant’s health and the health of her family members, should be heard in private, pursuant to Rule 10(1)(a) of the 2003 Rules, to protect the private life of the Registrant and/or members of their family.

Background

13. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. The Registrant commenced employment with Hull City Council (‘the Council’) as a Grade 7, newly qualified Social Worker. Her role required her to travel to meet with service users and their families. The Registrant was entitled to submit mileage claims to cover the cost of fuel when carrying out her duties on behalf of the Council.

14. In March 2015 it came to witness GS’s attention that the Registrant had submitted a claim for a journey to Newton Aycliffe, where there is a secure Children’s unit. GS was the responsible person for authorising the Registrant’s mileage claims. GS was aware that the Registrant no longer needed to travel to Newton Aycliffe as the service user who had been located at the secure unit had been transferred elsewhere. GS asked the Registrant to amend the claim. GS subsequently checked the previous mileage claims that the Registrant had submitted and discovered that the Registrant had made claims for six journeys (totalling £662.76) to Newton Aycliffe that she had no professional need to make. When questioned, the Registrant stated that she had made a mistake in relation to these claims.

15. A formal investigation was undertaken on behalf of the Council and the Registrant was subsequently reported to the HCPC.

16. A final hearing was held by the HCPC on 12 and 13 January 2017 and 20 and 21 April 2017. The panel at the final hearing found the facts proved and that they amounted to misconduct. It found the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be impaired and imposed a Suspension Order for 6 months.

17. The first substantive review took place on 20 October 2017, when a 12 month Suspension Order was imposed. At this review hearing, it became apparent that the Registrant had another matter of dishonesty against her. In a letter dated 25 August 2017 the Registrant indicated that she was referring herself to the HCPC for serious concerns relating to her recruitment and employment in unqualified social work roles with East Riding of Yorkshire Council. During her recruitment, she had failed in three application forms to disclose that she had been subject to disciplinary action at Hull City Council. The Registrant attended an investigation meeting of Yorkshire Council on 15 August 2017 following which she resigned with immediate effect. The Registrant concluded her letter by saying that it was time to end her career as a Social Worker and would like the HCPC to remove her name from the Register.

Registrant's evidence

18. The Registrant gave evidence before the Panel. She provided the following documents:

I. a reflective piece; and
II. five separate testimonials, dated between 1 March 2018 and the 29 July 2018.

19. The Registrant gave evidence to the Panel during which she accepted the previous Panel’s findings in respect of her conduct, stating “that is what the panel found and I accept that decision”. When further questioned by the Panel, regarding what exactly she accepted in relation to her earlier conduct, she stated “I accept that I did deliberately make those claims and that I gained financially”.

20. The Registrant also informed the Panel that she had not completed any training courses in person because she was unable to undertake them because she was not employed at the current time. Instead, she informed that Panel that she had undertaken some online training courses and reading, but did not furnish the Panel with any documentary evidence to support this.

Submissions

21. Ms Simpson submitted, on behalf of the HCPC, that the Registrant remained currently impaired and that the current Suspension Order should be extended for a period of not less than 6 months.

22. Ms Simpson submitted that the Registrant was unclear and conflicting in her oral and written evidence as to what she accepted regarding her conduct. She stated that the Registrant did not demonstrate to the Panel that she fully understood the issue of dishonesty, or her part in it.

23. Ms Simpson highlighted inconsistencies in the Registrant’s evidence to the Panel. Stating that the Registrant continued to blame transcribing errors, as the reason for the false mileage claims. The Registrant subsequently gave evidence that she did dishonestly fabricate the mileage claims for financial gain.

24. Ms Simpson also drew the Panel’s attention to the reflective piece provided by the Registrant and highlighted that the Registrant had only provided insight into how her conduct had negatively affected the profession when she was prompted by her representative to comment on it during her evidence. Preferring, on the whole, to focus on how the incident had negatively impacted her and her family.

25. Mr Smith, on behalf of the Registrant, submitted that the Registrant has now demonstrated sufficient insight and that the current Suspension Order should be revoked. Mr Smith submitted that the Panel should take the following points into account when making a decision that the Substantive Hearing panel, when making its finding of fact, had accepted:

I. ‘the effort and commitment it must have taken for the Registrant to progress from Teenage Pregnancy Advisor to qualified Social Worker’;
II. ‘the Registrant is a competent Social Worker in terms of her direct work with service users’;
III. ‘dishonesty was not sophisticated’;
IV. ‘dishonesty was not against a service user and there is no suggestion that the registrant is a danger to service users’; and
V. ‘there is no suggestion that the Registrant could not go on to be a valuable Social Worker’.
VI. that she wishes to remain as a registered Social Worker and would hope to return to the profession at a future date;
VII. that the Registrant had provided a written reflective piece and had given evidence about her recognition of the impact of her previous conduct on the social work profession as a whole, providing evidence as to how she would act differently in future;
VIII. that the Registrant had furnished a reference from her current voluntary employer;
IX. she had provided four other testimonials;
X. that she had explained, in her written reflective piece, that she accepted the substantive hearing panels findings;
XI. that this has been a lengthy process for the Registrant and that in the interest of fairness and justice it was not proportionate to prolong the process further; and
XII. she now demonstrates full insight and does not pose a risk to service users or the general public.

26. The Panel took into account the documents furnished to it by the HCPC and the Registrant had regard to the parties submissions and the Registrant’s evidence

27. The Panel considered the relevant Practice Note issued by the HCPTS, ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’’, together with the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics and the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency Social Workers in England.

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

Decision

29. In making its decision, the Panel had regard to both the personal and public elements of impairment.

30. The Panel found the Registrant’s evidence to be inconsistent and not wholly convincing. The Panel found the Registrant’s responses to questions, regarding her conduct, to be guarded. The Panel was also concerned that the Registrant’s reflective piece, which they noted had been drafted only a few days before the hearing, accepted ‘the Panel’s finding of dishonesty’, yet in her reflective piece and her oral evidence, she also continued to apportion blame to a ‘copy and pasting’ error on her part. Consequently, the Panel formed the view that she did not completely accept the admission made, during her oral evidence, that the fabricated mileage claims were made “deliberately” on her part.

31. The Panel was also troubled by Registrant’s lack of insight in respect of her actions and how they have affected the profession and the wider public, noting that she chose to focus primarily upon how the finding had impacted her and her family.

32. The Panel did recognise that the Registrant had undertaken some online courses and whilst it did not have documentary evidence of the courses attended, it accepted the Registrant’s evidence in this regard. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had taken the time to complete the courses.

33. The Panel also noted the contents of the Registrant’s testimonials, which indicated that she was a “capable”, “dedicated” and a “valued member of our team”.

34. However, notwithstanding these steps and references, the Panel found that there was a lack of insight on the Registrant’s part. Whilst the Registrant had shown developing insight into her conduct, the Panel was concerned that it was very recent (the first admission having been made while giving evidence before it) and therefore the Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant had full insight into her conduct.

35. The Panel noted that the allegations found proved against the Registrant, in two separate hearings, related to three separate and serious issues:

36. Dishonesty in respect of fraudulent mileage claims;

I. Dishonesty in respect of the application forms she had completed and submitted to her employer; and
II. Dishonesty in respect of information provided to her manager regarding her attendance at an HCPC hearing.
III. This demonstrated a pattern of dishonest behaviour.

37. The Panel also noted that there was a lack of up-to-date testimonials.

38. The Panel considered that it could not yet be confident that the Registrant has demonstrated the required insight and that she has remediated her failings. Therefore the Panel could not be confident that the behaviour would not be repeated. Further the Panel is not satisfied that in all the circumstances the Registrant does not still pose a real and on-going risk to the public and that public confidence in the profession would not be undermined should the Registrant be permitted to return to unrestricted practice.

39. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired on both the public interest and public protection grounds.

40. The Panel has borne in mind that sanction is a matter for its own independent judgement and that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public. Further, that any sanction must be proportionate, so that any order must be the least restrictive order that would protect the public interest, including public protection.

41. The Panel considered the option of a Caution Order but decided that it would not provide adequate protection for the public or mark the seriousness of the conduct.

42. The Panel next considered the option of replacing the existing Suspension Order with a Conditions of Practice Order. However, the Panel decided that conditions would not be appropriate as her dishonest conduct did not directly involve her work with service users. Honesty is a fundamental tenant of the social work profession and the Panel was of the view that a Conditions of Practice Order could not be formulated to address her dishonest conduct.

43. The Panel next considered extending the current Suspension Order. The Panel noted the Registrant’s mitigating factors, as identified by the Substantive Hearing panel and also noted the Registrant’s limited and recent but developing progress in respect of insight.

44. The Panel considered a Striking-off Order, but decided that this would be disproportionate at this time. Taking into account the reasons and circumstances outlined by the Substantive Hearing panel; namely that the Registrant could go on to make a valuable contribution to the social work profession, the Panel decided that, in the circumstances, notwithstanding the very serious dishonesty findings made against the Registrant by two Substantive Hearing panels, the Registrant should be afforded with an opportunity to satisfy a future panel that her fitness to practise is no longer impaired.

45. The Panel therefore decided that the appropriate and proportionate Order is to extend the current Suspension Order. The Panel decided that this should be for the maximum period of twelve months to allow the Registrant time to reflect further and to demonstrate insight into her misconduct.

46. The Panel also considered that a review panel may be assisted by the following:

I. a written reflection piece focussing on the decision of the Panel and the impact of the Registrant’s actions on others;
II. evidence that the Registrant has kept her skills and knowledge up to date such as any continuing professional development courses undertaken;
III. evidence concerning any voluntary work undertaken within a hospital or healthcare environment; and
IV. up to date references or testimonials which may be from employment, voluntary work and/or the Registrant’s private life.

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to suspend the Registration of Ms Deborah Johnson for a further 12 months upon the expiry of the existing Order.

Notes

This order will be reviewed by the Committee no later than 19 March 2020 or earlier if new evidence which is relevant to the Order becomes available after it was made.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Deborah Johnson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
28/02/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
28/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution
26/10/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
20/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
20/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
12/01/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned part heard