Dr Alistair Cooper

Profession: Practitioner psychologist

Registration Number: PYL05130

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 28/01/2019 End: 17:00 01/02/2019

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

Please note that the decision can take up to 5 working days to be uploaded onto the HCPTS website. Please contact one of our Hearings Team Managers via tsteam@hcpts-uk.org or +44 (0)808 164 3084 if you require any further information.

 

Allegation

Whilst registered as a practitioner psychologist with the HCPC, you:

1.Between April 2016 and May 2017, breached professional boundaries by contacting Service User 1 for whom you had provided treatment, and:

a.Made inappropriate sexual comments;

b.Made admissions about using Class A drugs.

2.Between January 2017 and May 2017, breached professional boundaries by contacting Service User 2 for whom you had provided treatment, and made inappropriate comments suggesting meeting her.

3.Between 03 September 2016 and October 2016, breached professional boundaries by contacting Service User 3.

4.Misused a Class A drug.

5.The matters described in paragraphs 1(a) and/or 2 and/or 3 were sexually motivated.

6.The matters described in paragraphs 1 to 5 constitute misconduct.

7.By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

Attendance on the part of the Registrant

1. The Registrant was not in attendance at the commencement of the hearing. However, his Counsel, Ms Keogh, was present throughout. She said that the Registrant preferred not to be in attendance during the giving of evidence in support of the HCPC case, but he intended to be present during the second day of the hearing, when he might decide to give evidence and when two witnesses would give evidence on his behalf.

2. The Panel was satisfied, on the basis of the attendance by Ms Keogh, the arrangements made for the Registrant to attend on the second day, and the arrangement for witnesses to attend in support of the Registrant’s case, that the Registrant was aware of the hearing. The Panel was also satisfied that it was fair to proceed on the basis of the Registrant being absent for parts of the proceedings given that he would be represented throughout by Ms Keogh.

Application to amend particulars

3. During the course of the hearing, Mr Dite applied for a minor amendment to the wording of the stem of the allegation, namely to delete “and during your employment at” the Centre. There was no objection to the proposed amendment on the part of Ms Keogh. The Panel was satisfied that the proposed amendment was being introduced to clarify the particular and did not raise any new issues such that the Registrant would be prejudiced. The proposed amendment was approved and the Allegation was amended as set out above.

Application to refer the Allegation to the Health Committee

4. Ms Keogh submitted, at the beginning of the hearing and at the start of her closing submissions, that the health of the Registrant was at the heart of the Allegation, such that this Panel, being a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee, should refer the Allegation to the Health Committee. That was on the basis of this Panel’s powers within paragraph 4 of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules, which provides:

“Where it appears to the Committee that an allegation which it is considering would be better dealt with by the Health Committee, the Committee may refer the allegation to the Health Committee for consideration and shall suspend its consideration of the allegation.”

5. Ms Keogh asked the Panel to take into account the opinions of professionals as set out in the documentation. It would be asserted that the actions of the Registrant stemmed from his health, such that the Health Committee was the more appropriate tribunal.

6. On behalf of the HCPC, Mr Dite asked the Panel to take into account the HCPTS Practice Note on “Health Allegations”, and he opposed any referral to the Health Committee. He referred, in particular, to the entry:

“In deciding whether to refer an allegation to the Health Committee, the factors which should be taken into account include:

• the extent to which health issues are the cause of allegation;

• the overall seriousness of the allegation; and

• the sanctions which are available to the Health Committee, including, in particular, that striking off is not an option”.

7. Mr Dite further asked the Panel to take into account the references to case law set out in the Practice Note. 


8. Having received legal advice and retired to consider its decision, the Panel decided not to transfer at the outset but to keep the matter under review during the hearing. At the start of the hearing, the Panel noted the seriousness of the Allegation, required clarification as to the extent to which the Registrant’s health was the cause, and could not exclude the possibility of a Striking Off Order at this stage.

9. In closing submissions, both of the representatives maintained their earlier positions and each of them pointed out aspects of the evidence which had been provided during the hearing to support their respective positions.

10. In making its decision, the Panel referred to the Practice Note and took into account the references to case law as set out below.

11. In Crabbie v GMC [2002] UKPC 45, the Privy Council held that: "The power to refer [to the Health Committee] is a discretionary one... in considering whether or not to exercise the power, the [decision maker], should take into account all the circumstances of the case including the scope of the powers available to the Health Committee. 
...the Health Committee has no power to direct erasure... if the case is one in which erasure is a serious possibility, neither [decision maker] should refer the case to the Health Committee notwithstanding that it may be one where the fitness to practise of the practitioner in question appears to be seriously impaired by reason of his or her physical or mental condition." 


12. In R (Toth) v GMC (2003) EWHC 1675 (Admin), a case which concerned the cross-referral of an allegation to the Health Committee, the court held that: "whilst the possibility of erasure remains, the [Committee] cannot lawfully refer the case to the Health Committee. That Committee cannot impose a sanction of erasure and it is one that the [Committee] may have to impose in the public interest. Whilst that remains a possibility, [it] should retain jurisdiction … I would only add that even where the [Committee] does conclude that erasure is not a possible sanction, it may still be inappropriate to refer a case to the Health Committee because the public interest in complaints being determined in public and the need to maintain professional standards may outweigh the advantages of referring the matter to the Health Committee. However, once erasure has been discounted as a possible sanction, the power to transfer arises and it is for the [Committee] to weigh the considerations for and against exercising that power." 


13. The Panel decided that the Allegation against the Registrant is very serious. The assertion, and the HCPC supporting evidence, is that the Registrant made contact with former service users whom he had treated, with no proper professional basis for doing so. The evidence in the case of Service User 1 is that subsequent contact on the part of the Registrant confused and upset her. This contact led Service User 1 to think that the Registrant was pursuing a potentially exploitative course of action with her, this type of action being something about which he had counselled her in the past. The Registrant admitted that some of his communications with Service User 1 were sexually motivated, and that he had misused Class A drugs.

14. The Panel accepted that, at the time of the particulars of the Allegation, the Registrant was experiencing health problems. However, the Panel also took into account that, during the period under examination, the Registrant was maintaining regular employment and, apart from the details of the Allegation, there were no criticisms of the quality of his work.

15. On the basis of the written and live evidence before the Panel, it could not be satisfied that the Registrant’s health issues were the cause of the Allegation, although they formed an important part of the context.

16. Having reached the completion of closing submissions, the Panel still could not rule out the possibility of a Striking Off Order at this stage. It also noted that the case of Toth highlights that, even in cases where Striking Off is not a likely outcome, there may be public interest factors that go against a referral to the Health Committee.

17. The Panel decided, in all circumstances, having considered this matter both at the outset of the hearing and subsequent to closing submissions, not to exercise its discretion to refer this matter to the Health Committee.

Application that the hearing should be held in private

18. Ms Keogh made the application. She said that the Registrant’s case would be that his health was the real cause of his misconduct. References to his health would permeate all aspects of the hearing and would make it impracticable to try either to hold the hearing in public or to continually move in and out of public and private sessions.

19. Mr Dite opposed the application. He asked the Panel to take into account the HCPTS Practice Note on “Conducting Hearings in Private”. The ‘open justice principle’ meant that the default position was that hearings should be conducted in public. There could be exceptions where, for example, it was necessary to hold a hearing in private to protect the private life interests of a registrant or a witness; in other words, if, in a particular hearing, private life interests could be protected simply by holding a portion of the hearing in private, that was the course of action which should be taken.

20. The Panel was satisfied that those parts of the hearing relating to the Registrant’s health should be in private, in order to protect the confidentiality of those matters. However, the rest of the hearing should be in public.

Background

21. The HCPC case is that, at the relevant times, the Registrant was employed as a Practitioner Psychologist. He had previously been employed by a local authority (“the Council”) up until January 2015. The HCPC alleges that, after leaving the Council, the Registrant contacted, by social media and text, three service users that he had previously treated at the Council.

22. The HCPC says that, in making those contacts, the Registrant:

• breached professional boundaries, and made inappropriate sexual comments and admissions about using Class A drugs, to Service User 1;

• breached professional boundaries with Service User 2 and made inappropriate comments suggesting meeting her;

• breached professional boundaries by contacting Service User 3;

• made contact with those three service users when he had no proper professional reason for doing so and, further, that those contacts were sexually motivated.

23. The HCPC case was also that the Registrant misused a Class A drug.

Witnesses

24. In support of the HCPC case, the Panel heard live evidence from:

• PF - Clinical Director at the Centre, where the Registrant had worked from September 2016;

• ER - Team Manager for the Leaving Care Team at the Council.

25. The Panel also took into account a witness statement made by HJK, an employee of the HCPC.

26. In support of the Registrant’s case, the Panel received live evidence from:

• CO – a health professional;

• Witness A;

• The Registrant.

Decision on Facts

27. In making its decision on the facts, the Panel formed the following views as to the evidence given by the witnesses.

PF

28. PF appeared to be credible, measured, and did not go beyond the written evidence he had provided. He was thoughtful and candid. His evidence was balanced. However, the Panel took into account that although PF was involved in a workplace disciplinary procedure regarding the Registrant, he had had little prior contact with him.

ER

29. ER had had direct but limited dealings with the Registrant when both had been employed by the Council. She appeared to be credible and measured, and she was prepared to say when she did not have knowledge or experience to answer a particular question. She was thorough in documenting her meetings with Service Users 1 and 3, and, in particular, in the schedule she had prepared which served as a record of the interactions between the Registrant and Service User 1.

The Registrant

30. He appeared very articulate and he did his best in giving his evidence in what was for him an extremely difficult situation. At times during his evidence he was emotional (but appropriately so given the nature of the matters about which he was giving evidence), but he maintained his self-control. He showed courage in attending to give evidence and being cross-examined by the representative of the HCPC.

CO

31. CO is a health professional. CO’s evidence appeared helpful and credible, but the Panel was bound to take into account that the information available to CO about the nature of the actions, now under examination, all came from the Registrant. She was asked to give an opinion as to what may have been the cause of the Registrant’s actions. She said that she could not be definite about causation. She said, in this respect, that she was reliant upon the information provided by the Registrant. In addition, she said that the actions of the Registrant now being examined were not the main focus of her interactions with him.

Witness A

32. Witness A appeared helpful, honest and clear.

Panel’s Decision

33. The Panel reminded itself that the burden of proving the alleged facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant was not required to prove anything and the Panel should not find a fact proved unless it was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the alleged fact was correct.

34. The Panel made findings on each of the asserted facts as shown below. In summary, the Registrant admitted the following particulars: 1(a), 1(b), 2, 3, 4, and 5 (in respect of Service User 1, but denied in respect of Service User 2 and Service User 3).

Particulars 1(a) and 1(b) – Proved

1. Between April 2016 and May 2017, breached professional boundaries by contacting Service User 1 for whom you had provided treatment, and:

a. Made inappropriate sexual comments;

b. Made admissions about using Class A drugs.

35. The Panel took into account, and accepted, the evidence of ER. She interviewed Service User 1 in detail. The Panel was satisfied that ER made a careful note of what was said to her by Service User 1. The Panel concluded that, during a text message exchange between the Registrant and Service User 1 which took place in the winter of 2016-2017, the Registrant said words to the effect of “When we were working together I thought you were very fit”. Service User 1 responded by saying words to the effect “Oh really?”, to which the Registrant responded, “Yeah, but I don’t know if you feel the same”. Service User 1 responded, “I kinda felt the same”. In response, the Registrant said “Ooh, that’s exciting!”. In the light of this evidence and the Registrant’s admissions, sub-particular 1(a) is proved.

36. The Panel also took into account text message exchanges between Service User 1 and the Registrant during 2017, when the Registrant spoke about misuse of a Class A drug. In the light of this evidence and the Registrant’s admissions, sub-particular 1(b) is proved.

Particular 2 – Proved

2. Between January 2017 and May 2017, breached professional boundaries by contacting Service User 2 for whom you had provided treatment, and made inappropriate comments suggesting meeting her.

37. The Panel took into account screenshots showing contact between the Registrant and Service User 2. That contact was initiated by the Registrant and went on to refer to the geographical area in which Service User 2 was then living. The Registrant indicated that he visited the particular area “quite a lot”. He said he thought he would be going to the area “in a few weekends time if you are free at all”.

38. The contact referred to above took place at least two years after any treatment provided by the Registrant to Service User 2 had ceased. There was no proper professional basis for the Registrant to contact Service User 2. The contact eventually ceased upon Service User 2 saying “I find this extremely inappropriate. I would prefer it if you didn’t contact me again. Kind regards”. In the light of this evidence and the Registrant’s admissions, particular 2 is proved.

Particular 3 – Proved

3. Between 03 September 2016 and October 2016, breached professional boundaries by contacting Service User 3.

39. On 28 June 2017, ER interviewed Service User 3, and the Panel took into account the written record made by ER in that respect. Service User 3 said that the Registrant had contacted her on Facebook on 3 September 2016. That led to further contact between them which made reference to travels made by Service User 3 to India and Bolivia.

40. The fact of the contact between the Registrant and Service User 3 was clear. It was initiated by the Registrant about 20 months after he had left his employment with the Council, during which time he had treated Service User 3. There was no proper professional purpose in the Registrant making contact with Service User 3. In the light of this evidence and the Registrant’s admissions, particular 3 is proved.

Particular 4 – Proved

4. Misused a Class A drug.

41. It was clear from the evidence that during the times in question the Registrant was misusing a Class A drug. In the light of this evidence and the Registrant’s admissions, particular 4 is proved.

Particular 5 – Proved (in respect of particular 1(a)) / Not Proved (in respect of particulars 2 and 3)

5. The matters described in paragraphs 1(a) and/or 2 and/or 3 were sexually motivated.

42. The Panel found that the matters described in paragraph 1(a) were sexually motivated, but the matters described in paragraphs 2 and 3 were not sexually motivated.

43. In respect of the matters that concern Service User 1, the Registrant admitted this particular. The Panel took into account the nature of the contact between Service User 1 and the Registrant. There were references to the Registrant thinking Service User 1 was “fit”; to the Registrant finding it “exciting” that Service User 1 had a similar opinion about him; and the Registrant asking Service User 1 “if she’d like to meet up for a coffee or glass of wine”. The Panel was satisfied that the contact by the Registrant in this respect was sexually motivated.

44. The Panel considered whether it may reasonably be said that the contacts made by the Registrant with Service User 2 and/or Service User 3 were sexually motivated. The Panel took into account the comment by Mr Dite that ‘sexually motivated’ means that “contact was done either in pursuit of sexual gratification or in pursuit of a future sexual relationship”. Further, Mr Dite invited the Panel to draw common sense inferences from the surrounding evidence, and to conclude that contact with Service User 2 and Service User 3 was sexually motivated, as contact with Service User 1 was.

45. The Panel took into account that there appeared to be a common thread between the contacts with the service users, in that each was female, aged approximately 18 to 19 years of age, deemed to be high risk in terms of their vulnerability during the Registrant’s treatment of them, and described as “beautiful”. However, the Panel also took into account that it was necessary to examine the nature of the contact in each separate case. It noted the Registrant’s evidence that he did not select the three service users, simply that they were part of a group of very high risk service users with whom he was working prior to leaving the Council. The Panel was satisfied that, whilst the sexual motivation in the case of Service User 1 was demonstrated by the Registrant’s text messages referred to above, there was no evidence before the Panel of similar messages being sent by the Registrant to Service User 2 or Service User 3.

46. The Panel took into account that the Registrant admitted sexual motivation in the case of Service User 1 but denied it in the cases of Service User 2 and Service User 3.

47. The evidence from the Registrant was that, in the case of both Service User 2 and Service User 3, his underlying reason for making contact was that both service users had been high risk, that he had a deep professional concern for their continuing well-being, and that he was, as he said in his live evidence, “preoccupied” with them. In his written statement dated 6 September 2017, the Registrant described his actions as “a reaching out and associated with my own need to connect … I had no romantic intentions when I initiated contact with any of them.” The Panel recognised that those factors equally applied in the case of Service User 1, but the Panel saw a difference, in that the contact with Service User 1 then developed to a stage of sexual motivation. The Panel was satisfied that the contact with Service User 2 and Service User 3 started with an improper continuing professional concern for their well-being, but it was not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that there was evidence to show that, even by inference, there was sexual motivation.

Decision on Grounds

48. The Panel took the definition of misconduct as a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. For the purpose of these proceedings, the act or omission must be of sufficient seriousness.

49. The matters found proved against the Registrant are of grave seriousness. The Registrant had professional responsibility for treating very high risk young people who were vulnerable and prone to self-harm. Part of the Registrant’s responsibility was to work with service users who were vulnerable to exploitation (particularly in the case of Service User 1). The opinion of the Panel was that there was a serious failure on the part of the Registrant to recognise and maintain proper boundaries between himself and three ex-service users. There was no basis for him to initiate and continue contact with three ex-service users in the way he did.

50. The Panel also noted that the Registrant had repeatedly contacted all three ex-service users over a significant period. This was not a case of an isolated error of judgement.

51. The Panel noted that the Registrant had said he made each of the contacts “impulsively” and whilst he was affected by his health.

52. However, the Panel also took into account that the Registrant apparently realised, after the effects of his health had subsided, that his contacts were inappropriate and even so, he had gone on to make further contact.

53. It was also relevant to note that Service User 1 found that contact to be upsetting. In speaking to ER, Service User 1 said that she was disappointed and angry because of the contact, which caused her to question everything about her therapeutic relationship with the Registrant. She said that the Registrant had been the first male she had ever trusted and she felt hurt.

54. It was clear that Service User 2 did not find benefit in the contact because she said that she found it extremely inappropriate and she asked for no further contact from the Registrant.

55. The Panel recognised that Service User 3 found the contact from the Registrant to have positive elements. However, it was clear to the Panel that the Registrant was taking a risk in contacting a previous service user and his doing so was a clear breach of proper professional boundaries.

56. The fact that the contact with Service User 1 included sexually motivated behaviour was a seriously aggravating feature.

57. The Panel also considered the misuse of a Class A drug by the Registrant. There was no evidence to show that the Registrant’s performance at work as a Practitioner Psychologist was affected by the Class A drug, but it nevertheless considered that the misuse of a Class A drug in the circumstances constituted misconduct.

58. The Panel decided that, given the matters found proved, the Registrant had breached Standards 1, 2 and 9.1 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

59. The Panel was satisfied that the matters found proved amounted to misconduct, even when assessed on an individual basis.

Decision on Impairment

60. The Panel has to decide whether the fitness to practice of the Registrant is impaired at today’s date. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’” and noted the factors concerning both the personal component and the public component.

61. The personal component considers the current competence and behaviour of the individual registrant, and the public component considers the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour, and maintain public confidence in the profession.

62. The Panel took into account all of the evidence provided in relation to the Registrant’s current health.

63. The opinion of CO was that it would take a period of between 6 to 12 months before the Registrant would be ready to return to practice.

64. The Registrant said that he has thought about the three service users almost every day, and has expressed remorse for his actions. He has also actively engaged in addressing his health. However, there is no evidence of training courses on boundaries or other activities which could remediate the Registrant’s past failings. The Panel noted that CO’s interactions with the Registrant have focused on matters other than those being examined in this case. The Panel also noted that the Registrant does not see himself returning to practice in the same clinical area. As such, the Registrant has shown a degree of insight.

65.  The Panel is satisfied that there are personal and public component concerns regarding the Registrant’s current fitness to practise.

66. In respect of the personal component, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s remediation and health has not progressed sufficiently to address the service user protection issues raised in this case. In all the circumstances, and given the nature and gravity of the Allegation, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

67. In respect of the public component, the Panel is also satisfied that this is a case where it is necessary to declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and, further, that public confidence in the profession would be damaged if there were to be no finding of impairment.

68. In conclusion, the Panel finds that the fitness to practise of the Registrant is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

69. Mr Dite invited the Panel to take into account the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy. He outlined the underlying principles that should be followed and, further, he referred to specific paragraphs which indicated factors to be taken into account when identifying the appropriate sanction. Mr Dite asked the Panel to take into account what may be seen as aggravating features, namely that the failings on the part of the Registrant could not be said to have been isolated, the service users in question were vulnerable and, in the case of Service User 1, the actions of the Registrant had been sexually motivated.

70. On behalf of the Registrant, Ms Keogh accepted that the findings of the Panel meant that a Caution Order would not be a suitable sanction. The Registrant accepted that his contact with the relevant service users had not been appropriate and he had expressed remorse and insight as to his past failings. It was submitted that the Registrant’s health was a significant background factor and amounted to significant mitigation. The Panel was asked to pay particular attention to the Registrant’s work environment, which included a lack of proper supervision, the responsibility for dealing with a number of high risk service users, and traumatic events. The Registrant’s work had left him with significant health issues. Those health issues were linked to the Registrant’s behaviour at the relevant time. However, since then, the Registrant had carried out significant remediation. He had made considerable progress with regard to his health as a result of his interactions with CO. The Registrant accepted that he was not currently fit to return to work as a Practitioner Psychologist with Looked After Children or service users with trauma, but he hoped to be able to do so at some time in the future.

71. Against that background, Ms Keogh submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order would be a suitable sanction and she proposed specific conditions to the Panel. Ms Keogh asked the Panel to accept that, although the Registrant’s failings had extended over a number of months, there had been a subsequent extended period of employment during which there had been no criticism of the Registrant’s work.

72. Ms Keogh submitted that if the Panel were not minded to make a Conditions of Practice Order, then a short Suspension Order of 6 months should be considered, at which point the suitability for the Registrant to return to unrestricted practice could be reviewed.

73. Ms Keogh referred to a number of specific paragraphs within the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy to support her first request for a Conditions of Practice Order and her alternative request for a Suspension Order.

74. The Panel then heard advice from the Legal Assessor, who referred to further paragraphs within the Indicative Sanctions Policy.

75. The Panel considered the appropriate Order and took into account the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy. The purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive, but is to protect members of the public. Relevant other objectives are to:

• create a deterrent for other practitioner psychologists;

• maintain the reputation of the clinical psychology profession, and;

• maintain public confidence in this regulatory process.

76. In deciding what, if any, sanction to impose, panels should ensure that any sanction is proportionate and strikes a proper balance between the protection of the public and the interests of a registrant.

77. The Panel noted that the aggravating features in this case are:

• the actions of the Registrant had an actual, or potentially, adverse impact on three service users;

• each of those service users was a high risk, vulnerable young woman;

• the contact with Service User 1 was sexually motivated;

• the Registrant’s actions continued over a lengthy period from April 2016 to May 2017, and on repeated occasions;

• the first contact with Service User 1 occurred in April 2016, at a time when the ‘difficult’ work environment referred to by the Registrant would not have applied because he was engaged in non-clinical, supervised work;

• the other improper contacts with service users occurred during the Registrant’s employment at the Centre. The Registrant said that he was overworked and unsupervised in this period, but he had himself chosen to take on additional work responsibilities, both within the Centre and outside;

• the Registrant knew his contact with those service users was inappropriate but, nevertheless, he continued to contact them;

• the Registrant misused a Class A drug, an unlawful activity;

• the Registrant’s initial admission in respect of Service User 2 was only made when he was confronted with the information she provided relating to those contacts.

78. The Panel is satisfied that, when the aggravating features are considered in the round, they amount to very grave conduct on the part of the Registrant.

79. The Panel noted that the mitigating features are:

• the Registrant admitted his conduct in connection with Service User 1 and Service User 3;

• he has been cooperative in these proceedings and has shown remorse. He has worked hard to address his health and he has shown some insight into the harm, actual or potential, caused to service users;

• the Registrant volunteered information about his health before the details were otherwise known;

• his health created no known negative impact on the Registrant’s work at the Centre;

• the Registrant had to deal with frequent traumatic incidents relating to service users while working for the Council, and at a time when he had no adequate supervision;

• apart from the matters relevant in this case, it appears that the Registrant has had an otherwise unblemished career as a Practitioner Psychologist.

80. In this case, it is not appropriate to make no order because of the serious nature of the Registrant’s misconduct.

81. Mediation and a Caution Order are not appropriate because the failings of the Registrant were neither minor nor isolated, and the misconduct on the part of the Registrant was of a serious nature.

82. The Panel has taken into account guidance in the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy to the effect that a decision to make a Conditions of Practice Order “…will be regarded as confirmation that, beyond the conditions imposed, the registrant is capable of practising safely and effectively”.

83. As the Panel noted at paragraph 63 above, “The opinion of CO was that it would take a period of between 6 to 12 months before the Registrant would be ready to return to practice.”

84. The oral evidence from the Registrant was that “there is a way to go”.

85. These two factors come together to make it clear to the Panel that, at this stage, it is too early and therefore not appropriate to address the public protection and public interest concerns raised in this case by the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order.

86. The Panel has concluded that the only appropriate and proportionate step is to make a Suspension Order for a period of 9 months. The Panel is satisfied that it is appropriate and proportionate to impose a Suspension Order so as to ensure the protection of vulnerable service users and to address the need to declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and public confidence in the profession. The Panel has chosen 9 months as the appropriate period having taken into account the estimate from CO that it would take between 6 months and 12 months for the Registrant to be ready safely to return to practice.

87. The Panel believes that a 9 month order is a proportionate balance between the public interest and the individual interests of the Registrant.

88. The Suspension Order now imposed will be reviewed before its expiry. The Registrant will be invited to attend a review hearing. This Panel encourages the Registrant to do so. The reviewing panel will examine whether the Registrant is fit to return to practice. Although this Panel cannot bind the hands of a future reviewing panel, this Panel believes that such a panel will be assisted if the Registrant provides the following material at any future review:

• independent information about the Registrant’s current health;

• any relevant testimonials the Registrant is able to provide;

• relevant training certificates in relation to maintaining professional boundaries.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Dr Alistair Cooper for a period of 9 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

This order will be reviewed before its expiry.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Dr Alistair Cooper

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
29/10/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing No further action
28/01/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended